Riding a bicycle can be an exciting and enjoyable form of exercise, but there are some important questions that every overweight person thinking of taking up cycling to lose weight should ask themselves.
Would I really enjoy cycling?
If you haven’t ridden a bicycle recently, it might be best to hire one and see how you get on before spending money on a bike that you might not use. Avoid riding in traffic until you have built up your confidence. You could easily be put off by riding in the wrong place. Remember, if your main motivation for taking up cycling is weight loss, you will be spending quite a lot of time on your bike, so you need to enjoy it. Trust me — if you don’t like riding, you won’t do it!
How many calories can I burn cycling?
You can burn quite a lot of calories if you ride at a fairly energetic level. If you ride slowly, you will use fewer calories than walking because riding is more energy-efficient than walking. That’s the reason why bikes are great for local transport, but slow cycling won’t help much with fat-burning. It’s better than nothing, but you won’t be maximizing the health and fitness benefits of your cycling unless you make an effort. Work that body!
To give you some numbers — it takes me 100 miles of vigorous cycling to burn off one pound of fat. That’s a lot of hard work. On flat roads, that should take you about 6-8 hours or so once you get reasonably fit. How many hours a week can you spare?
Do I also need to change my diet?
Almost certainly — yes! If you want to lose 50 pounds of fat, you’d need to ride about 5,000 miles and that’s without eating extra food. You could do it purely by exercise (it doesn’t matter whether that is on a bicycle, in the gym, swimming, whatever — the same principle applies), but it would be incredibly hard work.
You should get plenty of healthy exercise, and cycling is a wonderful activity, but don’t fool yourself into thinking that you can then eat what you like — you can’t. I have been on mountainous cycling holidays in Spain where I cycled 700 miles in two weeks and I actually gained weight because I ate so much at the hotel buffets!
The best way of not gaining weight is to eat sensibly, in conjunction with getting regular healthy exercise. The best way of losing weight is a sensible diet with a moderate reduction in calories, plus that exercise.
What’s the verdict — should I try cycling to lose weight?
I love cycling so of course I’d suggest you take it up, but the main part of your fat loss will come from careful eating. 400-500 calories a day below what you need to maintain your weight would take about a pound off a week, 50-100 miles of cycling a week would take up to another pound off.