Ask any mountain biker why they do it and you'll likely
hear, "because it's fun." My knee-jerk response when people question
my sport of choice is no different. But it should be. There's a reason everyone
from pre-schoolers to former presidents and
school-aged children to cycling legends have fallen in love with riding their
bike off-road. In addition to being fun, mountain biking offers a plethora of
physical, emotional and social benefits to those who partake. So hop on your
steed and search for the nearest singletrack, because you have no excuse not to
join the millions of others who mountain bike.
Though you may encounter a few bumps and bruises along the
way, mountain biking helps more than it harms. According to Peopleforbikes.org,
three hours of biking per week decreases your chance of heart disease and
stroke by 50 percent. A study in the European Journal of Epidemiology found
that women who bike more than 30 minutes each day have a reduced risk of breast
cancer. Furthermore, teenagers who bike are 48 percent less likely to be
overweight in adulthood.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends
that adults get at least two and a half hours of moderate-intensity physical
activity every week. This type of exercise must be rigorous enough for a person
to break a sweat and raise their heart rate. I think it's safe to say that mountain
biking counts toward the CDC's weekly guidelines!
One last thing to note, mountain biking proves to be an
ideal alternative for the growing number of older Americans who may be
suffering from knee injuries after years of high-impact sports, such as
running. The sport offers similar cardiovascular benefits to running, but
without the impact on your joints. Former president George W. Bush took up
mountain biking after a knee injury put an end to his running regimen.
In addition to the myriad physical benefits of mountain
biking, the sport also plays an important role in participants' emotional
well-being. According to a 2007 study by Dr. Andrew Lepp
at Kent State University, outdoor activities decrease stress, raise self-esteem
and provide people with a sense of challenge and adventure.
Exercise in general helps decrease anxiety and improve mood.
The Mayo Clinic notes that exercise helps stave off depression by releasing
endorphins (brain chemicals that trigger a euphoric high). Physical activity
also decreases the immune system chemicals that make depression worse. And
that, my fellow mountain bikers, is why you typically end a ride happier than
you started. Unless, of course, you find yourself unprepared
on the trail. (Find out the essential items you need to bring with you
on a mountain bike ride.)
Lastly, mountain biking acts as a
distraction and helps riders to temporarily take their mind off of any worries.
This escape from reality breaks the cycle of negative thoughts that contribute
There are plenty of opportunities for interaction in this
sport, whether you join your local cycling club, sign up for a mountain bike
race or bump into other riders at the trailhead. Pleasant social interaction
can improve your mood and provide you with the opportunity to make new
friends--or at the very least, new riding buddies. And riding with others is
not only enjoyable, it's safe, especially if you were
to come across any furry friends along the way.
Whether you rode over your first log, mastered that
technical descent or cleared a particularly gnarly rock garden, meeting
mountain biking challenges that you have set for yourself can give your self confidence a major boost. Improving your stamina and
becoming more physically fit will help you feel good about your outer
appearance, giving you the courage to go about your everyday life without
According to the Shimano Research Group, more than 50
million Americans have tried mountain biking [source: Shimano].
While this seems like a huge number, it's nothing compared to the huge benefits
that this sport offers in terms of physical and emotional well-being.
Mountain biking isn't only an adventure: It can also help
you stay fit. Depending on the speed of your rides and the terrain you're
covering, mountain biking can burn between 10 and 16 calories a minute, or 600
to 1,000 calories per hour. At that rate, biking can help you lose extra pounds
or maintain your current weight. Over time, biking can increase muscle
strength, improve cardiovascular health and help you build endurance that will
carry over to other parts of your life. Biking just two to three hours a week
can improve your lung capacity by up to 20 percent, making hiking up the stairs
in your home a breeze [source: Adams].
Beyond its physical benefits, this sport also offers a
number of emotional benefits that contribute to an overall sense of happiness
and well-being. According to Dr. Andrew Lepp at Kent
State University, outdoor activities can prevent and reduce stress, increase
self-esteem, and offer a sense of challenge and adventure. Mountain biking also
provides social benefits, and can help riders build a strong community [source:
As mountain biking becomes increasingly popular, it's also
becoming a major economic influence. Between local and destination biking, this
sport contributes an estimated $26 billion to the U.S. economy each year. This
spending includes retail sales of bikes and equipment, tourism and services
directly related to expanding biking to a wider audience. A Shimano study
indicates that for every one dollar spent on trail
investment for biking, the United States realizes a benefit of three dollars in
health-related savings as riders lose weight and get fit [source: Shimano].
Even those simply looking for outdoor adventures are sure to
enjoy the many mountain biking benefits that come along for the ride.