Cycling vs. Running – Survival Of The Fittest

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To run, or to ride? That is the question.

Exercise is one of the key factors when it comes to maintaining a healthy lifestyle, benefitting both our physical and mental health. Many of us already incorporate some form of exercise into our daily routine, however, some of us have never found the thing most suited to them, and at this time of year, it can be easy to fall out of our normal routine. But with a new year on the horizon, now could be the perfect time to start weighing up your options and finding the right form of exercise for you.

Running and Cycling are both popular and traditional forms of aerobic exercise enjoyed globally. They are both activities that can be enjoyed outdoors or simulated via equipment at most gyms, but while we’re trying to plan our new workout routine for the new year, let’s find out which of these is more beneficial.

Cycling Training ©we love cycling
Cycling Training ©we love cycling

While running generally burns more calories than cycling, both are beneficial when it comes to cardiovascular (cardio) health.

Aerobic activities help your heart pump more oxygen in your body and doing cardio exercises, such as running and cycling strengthens your heart and in the process teaches it to pump even more efficiently the rest of the time. However, if you’re engaging in vigorous activity, you may need to limit your activities as according to an overview of multiple studies, vigorous exercise more than 5 hours a week, or 60 minutes a day, can begin to have a negative effect on your cardiovascular health.

The overall number of calories you burn in either exercise does, however, depend on the intensity and length of time you do it. Yes, in general, running does burn more calories than cycling because it uses more muscles. However, cycling is gentler on the body, therefore you may be able to do it for longer periods of time.

Running or cycling uphill is also proven to burn more calories than if you were to be exercising on a flat surface. Your age, weight, gender, and other factors also determine your own baseline of calorie burning. If you are unsure about how to find out this information it is always best to talk with your doctor to learn how many calories you should burn.

One of the benefits of cycling that may be absent in running is that cycling can help you build muscle in your lower half, running on the other hand won’t necessarily help build any bulk, it can help you develop stronger toned muscles. Pushing pedals while cycling is a form of resistance training that aids the building of leg muscles. While the top half of your body is also involved, those muscles aren’t nearly as engaged as the bottom half.

Running uses all of the muscles at the same time and doesn’t focus or engage them in a way that will build much bulk. Your muscles and bones, however, will get stronger from use and the impact of hitting the ground. Running may be better for toning muscles since it works your whole body and burns more calories but you will need to add some weight training and introduce a change into your diet if you’re wanting noticeable results. One study says that working out four to five times a week is highly effective at maintaining muscle tone among active, aging adults.

Female runner running at summer park trail ©ACTIVE
Female runner running at summer park trail ©ACTIVE

The look of lean, toned muscles usually results from overall body fitness and low body fat. It is true (albeit unfortunate) that you cannot pick where your body gains or loses fat, but you can, however, pick which muscles you build. To lose weight, you first need to find the correct balance of calories in, to calories out. You may be able to lose weight more quickly by running, but if you cycle for long amounts of time, the calorie loss can eventually meet and exceed that of running.

The potential to lose weight by running or cycling depends on how you participate in the sport and how you combine it with healthy eating and other habits. While running does burn more calories on average, cycling is gentler on the joints, which might allow you to exercise longer and burn more calories overall.

One of the key factors to take into account when weighing up your options is not even related to the health benefits. It’s a question of cost. It is true that cycling is more expensive than running due to the obvious initial investment of a Bicycle and the necessary protective equipment that must be purchased as well. However, running can be relatively expensive as well and comfortable running gear along with a quality pair of trainers are sure to cost a fair amount of money. If you are interested in trying either of these, it is best to start out by borrowing equipment before making the investment yourself.

At the end of it all, neither cycling nor running stands out as a better option than the other. It is down to the individual to pick whichever one fits their lifestyle and suits their goals more. You can also switch between the two to reap the benefits of each activity and prevent boredom, as the most important part of starting a new routine is being able to enjoy it.

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