The Benefits of Bike Riding

Your muscles get a boost, too. Bike riding strengthens your thighs, hips and rear end. If your route includes climbing hills, your arms and upper body will benefit as you stand to pedal. What's more, cycling is gentle on your joints and helps preserve cartilage. That's especially advantageous for women who suffer from muscle strain, foot problems, knee troubles, back pain or impact-related injuries caused by running, jogging or walking, Dr. Callahan explains.

"If you're overweight and start an exercise program, sometimes it's harder on your joints because you are overweight," she adds. "So something like swimming or biking that's not pounding on the joints can be a good thing."

Daily routine biking also can help fight the incremental weight gain and waistline expansion that many women experience at midlife.

Dr. Callahan points out that cycling on stationary bikes indoors is generally a lighter workout than riding outside because there's no wind resistance or challenging terrain. "In the gym, you have to work a little harder to get the same result," she says.

Fit to ride

The health benefits of cycling will be as flat as a punctured tire if your bike doesn't fit your body correctly. Poor fit causes all sorts of problems, so it's important to have your bike correctly adjusted specifically for you. "You can't just go someplace and buy a bike because you like the color," says Dr. Callahan, who not only treats sports-related problems but enjoys cycling on weekends.

When your bike is too big for your body, you can develop neck and back problems. Seat height is another source of woes—if the seat is too low, it may stress your knee and cause knee cap pain; too high, it can also aggravate your knee.

For the right fit, position the seat so that when you pedal downward to the lowest point, your leg is almost straight. There should be a small bend in your knee of about 10 to 15 degrees.

To get a reliable fit, Dr. Callahan advises taking your bike to a bicycle shop and having them assess how well the frame height, seat and handlebars suit you. A few adjustments can make riding more comfortable and protect you from fit-related troubles.

Stayin' safe

While bicycle riding is both fun and great for your health, you need to take some wise precautions to make each ride as safe as possible. Although millions of us enjoy bike riding every day, it's an inescapable fact that bicyclist injuries and even deaths also occur. Annually, in the United States, more than 500,000 people suffer bicycle-related injuries severe enough to send them to hospital emergency rooms, and more than 700 die.

Before you hit the road (or trail), make sure you follow these safety tips: