It may surprise you to learn that heart disease is Australia’s leading single cause of death. In 2017, 18,590 deaths were attributed to heart disease, which equates to one life every 28 minutes.
About heart disease
The heart is a hollow muscular organ, situated just behind the breast bone. It is about the size of a clenched fist and works to pump blood around the body in order to deliver oxygen to other organs and cells. Heart disease - a term often used interchangeably with “cardiovascular disease” - encompasses a wide range of conditions that affect this vital part of your body. Diseases under this umbrella include blood vessel diseases, such as coronary artery disease as well as heart rhythm problems, with cardiovascular disease generally referring more specifically to conditions that involve narrowed or blocked blood vessels that can lead to a heart attack, chest pain or stroke.
Bike riding as a solution
Keeping the heart healthy is the most important thing one can do to help prevent and manage heart disease. Unfortunately, 90% of Australians have at least one risk factor for heart disease. Some risk factors like age are uncontrollable. But other risk factors are well within the control of individuals. These include levels of activity and weight.
It is no secret that exercise is beneficial for health and wellbeing, but it can be especially helpful in the prevention of heart disease. According to Heart Research Australia, regular exercise has been shown to improve the efficiency of the heart muscle, improve blood circulation, and maintain a stable weight. Specifically, regular cardio-based physical activity enables the heart to achieve improved blood flow in the small vessels around it which may help reduce the risk of heart attack.
In choosing a particular form of exercise to integrate into one’s lifestyle, experts are near universal in their praise of bike riding. There are numerous reasons for this, such as bike riding’s accessibility, utility as a form of transport, and low-impact nature - something that can be especially important for those in their later years who may not have the joint strength to support jogging on pavement.
Commenting on a study looking at various forms of exercise and their ability to prevent heart disease, Benjamin Levine, a professor of Internal Medicine at UT Southwestern, comments: "We are big fans of cycling as a key mode to include in any long-term exercise program. It can be done outside, on the road or trail, or inside on a cycle stationary bike." Cycling, therefore, is not only effective, but also fun and accessible.”
In line with this opinion, a recent Danish study conducted over 14 years with 30,000 people aged from 20 to 93 demonstrated the benefits of regular cycling in protecting people from heart disease, as well as stimulating and improving circulation in the heart and lungs, all leading to a major reduction in cardiovascular disease risk.
Research also shows that people who cycle to work have two to three times less exposure to pollution than car commuters, so their lung function is improved, another risk factor for cardiovascular disease.
“Just like the number of ways you can integrate bike riding into your life, the benefits of cycling are numerous. As echoed by members of the health research community, bike riding is clearly a benefit to one's ongoing physical health and the proactive prevention of heart disease”, says Bicycle NSW CEO, Peter McLean.
Bicycle NSW is passionate about helping more people integrate bike riding into their lives in order to improve the health of the individual and the health of the community. To get you riding, visit the Bicycle NSW website.