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 to anxiety.
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: Lepp].
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.