If you want to exercise more, commuting to work on a bike might appear to be a good idea. However, is commuting by bike enough exercise? Meaning, can you supplement whatever exercises you’re doing now with biking to work and still get the same benefits?
Bike commuting just 3–4 miles per day (or 14–22 minutes) is sufficient to get the recommended daily exercise by the Department of Health. Commuting by bike can provide sufficient exercise to meet the Department of Health’s recommendation of 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity aerobic activity or alternatively 70 minutes of high-intensity aerobic activity a week.
If you’d like to optimize the amount of exercise you get by commuting to work on your bike, I’ve got you covered. In the following sections, we’ll discuss why commuting to work can be sufficient exercise, how long you should bike each week, and how you can make your experience smoother and more enjoyable.
Is bike commuting sufficient exercise?
In their physical activity guidelines, the Department of Health recommends that adults get a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity every week. That’s around 22 minutes a day and could include everything from a light jog to riding a bike.
How biking can reduce the risks of certain diseases
There’s much evidence to suggest that commuting by bike can provide exercise sufficient enough to reduce your risk of certain health problems. For example, in 2017, the British Medical Journal published a study in which researchers found that people who commuted to work by bike had a dramatically reduced risk of cardiovascular disease and even some forms of cancer.
When I started biking to my job in NYC from New Jersey (even in the winter), I was recently diagnosed with hyperthyroidism, which meant my thyroid was overactive and my heart was pumping blood way too fast. That scared me to death, so you can imagine how seriously I took biking to work!
So what happened to my heart and thyroid issues after biking every day to work? Well, I started biking with an overactive thyroid and a resting heart rate of 80 beats/minute. Now, after just 2 years of biking to work and taking no medication, my thyroid levels are completely normal and my resting heart rate is around 45 beats/minute. That’s a drastic change that even I was surprised by when I went back to the doctor for a check-up.
How to optimize your bike commuting experience
There are a number of ways you can make your bike commute a more effective means of exercise.
The following tips should help you make your bike commute a more effective form of exercise:
- Use intervals
Rotate between intervals of pedaling really hard and then slowing down to give yourself a break. One way to do this is to pedal as quickly as possible in a harder gear and then alternate into pedaling lightly for 20 seconds. Think of these as the equivalent to reps when you’re working out with weights.
- Don’t be afraid of detours
Don’t just take the quickest, easiest route to where you’re going. Instead, pick a route with a challenge that matches where you are in your bike commuting journey (such as hills). Also keep in mind, however, that when you start you also don’t have to take the hardest route possible. The key here is finding one that’s appropriate.
- Get used to multiple gears
Becoming accustomed to both the higher gears and the lower ones will give your muscles a more robust workout. The gears are really there so that your bike can adapt to different types of terrain, but they can work out your legs in different ways and ultimately prove beneficial on a health level as well.
Just remember every person is different and this is a process of trial and error. If a certain method is really helping you out, embrace it as much as possible. If it’s not, don’t be afraid to discard it and change things up!
How long should you bike every week for exercise?
You don’t want to make your bike commute so strenuous that you show up to work or wherever you’re going completely exhausted. At the same time, you don’t want it to be so light that you’re only receiving marginal benefits from it. So how long exactly should you be biking each week for that just right amount of exercise?
Keeping things between 70 and 150 minutes (round-trip) is ideal for sufficient exercise. 70 for a more intense ride and 150 for a more moderate ride. Generally, it’s a better idea to push yourself really hard on the ride home as opposed to the ride to work because you don’t want to show up to work too tired. Just make sure you’re fueled and well-nourished for the ride home!
The length of your bike commute depends on the intensity of your commute and whether or not this is your first attempt to commit to a long-term exercise project. If you’re not used to biking every day, then you should take things easy at first and work your way up. If you’re just trying to improve an exercise routine you already have, you might be able to jump into the deep end.
The bottom line is: Any exercise is better than no exercise. You can make a short ride more intense by riding hard or make a longer ride more enjoyable by taking it easy. Either way, there’s nothing to lose!
Want to know how fast you can commute by bike? Check out that article here.
Is bike commuting difficult?
Biking has the potential to be difficult, but it doesn’t have to be. Again, this is mostly contextual. It depends on factors like where you live, your prior lifestyle (sedentary or active) and just how much exercise you’re expecting to get out of it.
If you’re just going for sufficient exercise and your workplace (or wherever else you’re commuting to) is close enough, it’s not difficult at all. It may take time to work your way up, but eventually it will feel like second nature.
In my experience, the first 2 weeks of biking every day from New Jersey to NYC was pretty exhausting. It’s about 13 miles one-way, but after just 2 weeks it became increasingly easier to do the trip. I looked forward to it every day because it was just more enjoyable than any alternative.
How to make bike commuting easier
When you’re just starting out, anything that makes your commute easier is more than welcome. Keeping in mind what you should expect from yourself, bringing along hydration, and having a plan will all contribute to your success.
Below I’ve outlined a few tips to help make your bike commute easier as a beginner:
- Don’t push yourself too hard at first
If this is your first time bike commuting, you don’t have to hit the minimum recommended exercise right away. Instead, start with what you’re comfortable with and gradually increase the amount you can take. In the beginning, it should be more about establishing the habit than pushing yourself too hard.
- Don’t become complacent
Just because you should start really light, doesn’t mean you should stay that way. Remember if you’re looking to get sufficient exercise from bike commuting you’ll want to hit that recommended 70 to 150 minutes of aerobic exercise a week. Be ready for when it’s time to step up and reward yourself for achieving!
- Plan your route ahead of time
If there are multiple viable routes to where you’re commuting to, check them out ahead of time and pick the one most suited to where you’re at now instead of where you think you should be.
- Bring water, lots of water
Staying hydrated is not only important for your physical health but for your mental and cognitive health as well. Researchers have found that if you’re dehydrated to 2% body mass loss, your judgment becomes impaired, you become fatigued and your problem-solving skills go down. Not a great recipe to start your work day.
Just remember to hold onto perspective and don’t judge yourself harshly in the beginning. Like playing an instrument, practicing an art or anything else that requires some degree of experience, it’s not about where you start but where you end up.
So really, is bike commuting enough exercise?
Bike commuting is a great way to get in exercise when you don’t have enough time to stop by the gym or you’re just looking to use your time more efficiently. To meet The Department of Health’s recommendations for weekly exercise, you should be biking 70 to 150 minutes a week. That’s roughly 14 to 22 minutes a day.
If your bike commute is on the more intense side of things, a time closer to 70 minutes is appropriate. If it’s moderately intense you’ll want to do around the 150-minute mark. Just remember since you’re commuting you may want to lean on the less intense side on your way so you don’t show up to work or wherever you’re going exhausted.