The 5 Most Important Ways Riding a Bike is Good for Your Child
"It's socially-oriented, it's fun, and it gets you outside and exercising."
Thanks to Dr. Clare Safran-Norton of Brigham and Women's Hospital for this short and sweet summary of the benefits of cycling. Couldn't have said it better ourselves.
Admittedly, we're somewhat biased here at Spokester considering our line of work. But the truth is, there's really very little debate anywhere in the world about whether or not bicycling is good for your wellbeing. Now we're going to drill down into why this is specifically good for kids' health.
In fact, we think you can boil it down into a few main reasons. Keep in mind that this is all inter-related, though. Physical and mental wellbeing are closely tied. Things like motor and social skills come from repeated physical activity and interaction with others, which both impact physiology and emotional health over time. No matter which way you want to slice it, the bottom line is that biking is good for you. More importantly, it's good for your children.
1. Kids Who Bicycle Enjoy Tons of Unseen Physical Benefits
Wow, where do we even start with this one? This can go in a hundred different directions, but we'll just select a few key reasons so that you can finish this post in one sitting.
First, when we say "bicycle," we're not talking about stationary bikes. Don't get us wrong, these are great. But how many 10-year-olds have you seen at spin class? This is about getting out of the house, recapturing the lost virtue of the great outdoors, if you will. There's simply no replacement for fresh air and natural sunlight.
Sure, Flintstones Chewables are nice supplements and inject a little sun-based vitamin D into the system, but they don't poop anyone out. A nice afternoon of riding around the neighborhood helps your kids get all of that youthful energy out of their systems. This leads to a better night's sleep, which is important for their growing bodies.
Along with that growth comes the strengthening of your immune system. For many parents, back to school also means back to the pharmacy. Want to cut back on the annual Robitussin bill? Get your kid on a bike. Appalachian State University's Dr. David Nieman has studied the benefits of physical activity on the immune system for 30 years. His research has shown that exercise like biking can play a big role in supporting the upper respiratory system. This knocks the number of sick days from things like the common cold down by 40-50%. If keeping your little ones out of the doctor's office is important, consider a Huffy for Christmas.
Long-term health benefits have also been examined extensively. A study from Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine looked at the impact of daily activity on heart disease. It found that people who regularly do things like cycling are 31% less likely to develop high blood pressure. A different study conducted by the University of Glasgow found that cycling each day to work can cut the threat of heart disease and cancer essentially in half. God forbid a child should be in danger of either of these. But, putting him or her on the right track at an early stage instills healthy habits that are carried into adulthood, reducing this risk later in life.
2. Biking is a Great Way for Kids to Exercise
Exercise is closely related to physical wellness since, naturally, one helps lead to the other. Let's face it, exercise for the sake of exercise is not very high on most young people's lists of life-or-death priorities. But, there are ways to get kids to be more active, especially when you combine it with playtime. It doesn't matter if they consciously realize they're getting their hour of recommended physical activity a day, the point is they're getting it.
This has a long-term effect on them. According to research by the YMCA, people who incorporate exercise and generally live physically-active lifestyles score 32% higher on wellbeing tests than people who do nothing whatsoever. If you introduce healthy activities to your children when they're young, there's a better chance that this becomes part of their ongoing M.O.
And when it comes to healthy activities for kids of any age, it's hard to beat cycling. Riding bikes is an excellent cardiovascular workout. The benefits of aerobic activity like this extend to the heart, brain, and blood vessels. They also release a wave of endorphins that help release stress and make you feel like a million bucks.
Additionally, cycling is a safe activity from a wear-and-tear standpoint. For the most part, bike riding is a sitting proposition. Yes, there are times when you need to raise up to gain leverage for more speed or better control balance and maneuverability over rough terrain. By and large, though, you're planted on a seat. This places most of your body weight on your pelvic bones. Compare that to another popular cardio routine, running, where your legs bear the weight. Joint stress is compounded by the continuous jolting they experience, unlike less-aggravating pedal pushing. Scientists who study this have discovered that more muscle damage and inflammation is experienced by runners than cyclists by hundreds of percentage points. To be clear, we're not pooh-poohing the jogging community in the slightest. Injury rates just happen to be higher based on the sport's mechanics. Of course, if it came down to running ragged versus 12 hours of Fortnite a day, guess who's joining the cross-country team next year, little guy.
3. Riding Bikes Helps Build Kids' Bodies the Right Way
Speaking of obsessive indoor pursuits, in today's world of social apps, fast food, and other built-for-convenience activities, obesity has become a real problem. Despite their seemingly inexhaustible stores of energy, children are not immune to this. So, how do we fight this epidemic? For starters, by getting off the couch.
As we've covered quite a bit already, regular physical activity goes a long way toward keeping the health meter in the black. Without it, we don't burn enough calories, and that excess is stored as fat. You can probably guess where we're going with this. Cycling raises your ability to burn calories, aka your metabolism, aka that thing you magically lose the morning of your 30th birthday. In fact, people can burn between 400 and 1,000 an hour depending on intensity. This helps keep off the unwanted pounds associated with a sedentary lifestyle.
But that's not all. Not only does biking help cut the bad weight, it helps add the good weight. Simply put, when you challenge your muscles, they grow. Pushing against pedals is a resistance movement, which falls into this category. Your lower body—namely, your quads, hamstrings, glutes, and calves—is the most obvious recipient of this muscle-friendly movement. It's not the only one, though. Cycling is a total-body workout. For instance, you use your core for balance and your arms and shoulders to steer. Ratchet up the effects significantly when you're tackling bumpy single track or carving through aggressive dirt courses.
Strength training disguised as play is still strength training. Combined with the stamina it also boosts, biking is a great way for kids of all ages to develop their bodies and stay in shape. It also helps them maintain great physical conditioning for other sports throughout the year.
4. Bicycling Helps Kids Not Just Physically, But Mentally as Well
It's easy to overlook one of the biggest beneficiaries of physical exercise, the brain. All kinds of research has shown the connection between the two. Part of the reason is due to the increased blood flow in your noggin during activities like biking. One study on cyclists found that flow rose by as much as 70% in some areas and then remained up by 40% well after riders hung up their helmets.
The key here is not in the blood flow, it's in the brain power. When circulation increases, the amount of oxygen and nutrients zipping around your gray matter also increases. As a result, concentration, memory, deduction, and other cognitive skills sharpen. Just ask the other authority figures in your kids' lives, their teachers. They'll tell you that students who bike to school are more focused, alert, and willing to learn. Toss in the fact that exercise like this also helps control behavioral conditions such as ADHD and you've got a sizable pro-bike bloc in today's educators.
The real end-game of all of this positive mental stimulation is positive mental attitude. People who bike regularly tend to be happier on the whole. Much of this is due to lower stress levels thanks to the kind of vigorous exercise riding can offer. How so? Well, let's hark back to chemistry class for a moment. Your body releases a hormone called cortisol when you start to pedal. Cortisol raises all kinds of things from blood pressure to glucose levels in response to this new stress on your system. But, as your body gets used to this routine, it takes more and more exertion to cue the cortisol. On average, that means you're physically able to stay calmer in stressful environments than your inactive buddies.
The takeaway? Mental fitness is just as impactful to your youngster as its physical counterpart. And, once again, biking is a boon to this.
5. Don't Forget the Intangible Benefits of Kids Riding Bikes
Zooming around on two wheels doesn't just burn calories and trigger chemicals. It also helps develop kids in ways that may be less measurable but are just as important. Take independence, for example. The first time you tell them "Be back by dinner!" as they're rolling down the driveway alone is a major milestone. We're big fans of responsibly letting your kids get out and explore, and bikes add a whole new dimension to their miniature spirit of Manifest Destiny. Riding around the neighborhood encourages imagination and adventure, cultivates a nose for direction, and familiarizes them with their larger surroundings beyond the end of the yard.
It also builds confidence. Knowing how to get from point A to point B and back again is a big step. The sense of accomplishment that comes with this and with successfully pushing their own boundaries cannot be understated. Confidence also naturally accompanies improving motor skills. Balance, coordination, spatial awareness, problem-solving, and so on all develop faster when bikes are involved. Combine this with a solid physique that comes from this kind of exercise once they get a little older and you can do wonders in the self-esteem department.
Part of this self-esteem comes from interaction with others. Biking is a great way to build social skills, particularly when young kids are discovering new things together as their worlds quickly expand. As they get older, social networks like Strava, which is dedicated to connecting all levels of cyclists and runners, continue building that sense of camaraderie while introducing a healthy dose of competition. For younglings who can't put their phones down for five minutes, this is a good way to at least get them to combine pursuits. By the time they approach high school, bike clubs and similar extra-curriculars offer new, readymade circles of like-minded youths.
At the end of the day, we're not claiming your kid's going to be able to leap tall buildings in a single bound simply by popping a few wheelies each day. But, generally speaking, bike riding is a great activity for any number of reasons. We've run through five of the bigger ones here, but the beauty of cycling is that it's a great platform to teach other important life lessons and skills from responsibility and goal-setting to safety and the proper use of hand tools.
Just remember this when you hear that tiny, high-pitched request for a bike ramp in the backyard for the dozenth time.
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