A low-impact workout, a heart-friendly cardiovascular exercise, the ultimate stress-reliever; the positive physical, mental, and emotional side effects of cycling are many. From fat loss to gaining a bunch of new, health-conscious friends to hit the road with, it’s a hobby we rarely associate with dangers, not counting the damage done to our pockets, particularly when purchasing or building an especially sweet machine.
Unfortunately, this doesn’t mean that there are no known negative effects of cycling. Using a bicycle requires an awareness of many real-life adverse consequences. Just like in the case of any sport or fun activity we engage in on a regular basis, cycling requires a conscious effort from the hobby user, the daily commuter, or the sportsman -and woman- to be educated about the possible dangers, to minimize or avoid them entirely.
When examining the hazards of cycling, we have to think of various physical injuries or disorders, either as a result of careless planning, accidents, or the overuse of muscles and joints that are involved in an exercise that mainly gives a thorough workout to the lower body. Typically, we can view these problems like short- or long-term negative effects of cycling, many of which cyclists might not be well-prepared for.
Short-Term Hazards of Cycling
Some of the more notable short-term health problems associated with cycling are:
Bruises, Cuts, and Scrapes
If you are even a semi-serious cyclist, it’s likely that sooner or later you’ll experience road rash in some shape or form, like bruises, cuts, or scrapes. While most of these injuries are superficial, some of them could require prompt medical treatment, stitches, or even surgeries.
For minor incidents, Matt Allyn, author of bicycling.com, the world’s leading magazine of cyclists suggests the use of clean drinking water, antibiotic ointment, and non-adhesive gauze – all of which that should be part of your cycling first aid kit, in the first place. Wash the wound with clean water right away to clean away debris but don’t scrub it to not to worsen your injury. Apply a generous amount of antibiotic cream, then lightly dress the wound.
Once a scab begins to form, allow the injury to air as much as possible, to speed up its healing. Avoid permanent scarring by frequently moisturizing the area even after the scab falls off, and don’t forget to use sunscreen – your new skin will be extra sensitive!
Speaking of sunburn, whether cycling in the sun or on a cloudy day, you will be exposed to some degree of UV-radiation. It can be minimized by riding your bike in the morning or by wearing clothing with high UPF -Ultraviolet Protecting Factor,- such as cotton, lycra, darker colors, and more form-fitting styles, but don’t forget to add a high-factor sunscreen to your list of must-haves.
Apply it half an hour before heading out, and make sure you re-use it frequently, particularly in skin areas that are more likely to be exposed to the hot rays of the sun while cycling, like the back of your neck, shoulders, arms, legs, and face.
No matter how low-impact exercise cycling is, don’t underestimate sweating and the loss of fluids, after a long session in the heat. A research study supported by the University of Athens, Greece warns: even mild dehydration can decrease your physical energy, which could worsen the overall strain on your body, muscles, and heart. Don’t forget to rehydrate frequently on the road!
Low Blood Sugar
Most cyclists are familiar with the sudden dizziness, weakness, or shakiness, suggesting that the blood sugar has dropped dangerously low. Hypoglycemia is common during an intense cardio exercise, which could lead to fainting, accidents (What Do I Do if I Was Hit by a Car?), and chronic health problems. Whenever possible, take a snack along, rich in healthy carbohydrates, like fruits, vegetables, or a granola bar; your health and cycling performance both depend on it!
Pressure, Blisters, and Sores
The longer the bike ride, the more likely you are to experience pressure and saddle sores, since much of your body weight is unevenly distributed, putting serious weight on your pelvic area. A well-fitted bike and seat can greatly reduce this risk while wearing silicone-padded underwear offers protection from sores and chafing. Watch the video below, courtesy of the Global Cycling Network, to understand what to pay attention to when selecting the right pair!
Long-Term Negative Effects of Cycling
Chronic and long-standing problems are, sadly, frequent among cyclists. Here are the most common health issues to be aware of:
Accidents, Fractures, and Permanent Injuries
Even professional cyclists fall. While it is difficult to predict the outcome of an accident, certain bones, such as arms, shoulders, collar bones, femur, or the pelvis are more likely to break than others, leading to permanent injuries, disabilities, concussion, or even death.
To prevent these, employ all safety measures possible: wear protective gear including a helmet, follow all traffic laws and signs, be aware of your surroundings and avoid distractions, scan the environment for potential dangers, such as potholes or downed trees, and remember your size compared to other moving vehicles.
As Molly Hurford of bicycling.com suggests, always be prepared by mitigating as many risk factors as possible, and immediately call for help if an accident has taken place.
Weakened Upper-Body Muscles
With cycling, your lower body may gain a decent amount of strength, but it is crucial not to ignore the core and the upper body. As Robert Hicks from Cycling Weekly explains, your internal organs experience tremendous pressure during a long cycling trip, along with an unhealthy, hunched-over position of your upper back. If you neglect to strength-train these areas, it could lead to musculoskeletal problems, pain, and damage. Don’t forget about your arms, back, and abdominals, to mitigate this negative effect.
Bad posture, knee pain, sensitive back, wrists, ankles, and loss of the range of motion in the pelvis are all likely chronic side effects of cycling. Make sure that you use a properly sized bicycle to better distribute your weight.
Never skip stretching before and after cycling, and support your joint health with minerals and supplements, such as glucosamine, or omega-3 fatty acids. Give yourself time for recovery if you are in pain; you’ll hit the road sooner if you allow your body plenty of time for rest and recovery.
Prolonged cycling sessions put the pelvis, especially the perineal areas under serious pressure, causing tingling and numbing of the genital areas where crucial nerves and arteries are found. Current scientific findings, as mentioned by Harvey B. Simon, M.D. support that especially for men, cycling can lead to sexual dysfunction and permanent loss of sensation.
The solution? Switch to a wider and padded seat, instead of using a narrow, racer-type, use silicone-padded underwear, and stop if you’re experiencing concerning neurological sensations in your pelvic areas.
While there are many side effects of cycling that are considered negative, don’t ditch this fabulous hobby and sport out of the fear of physical injuries or complications! With the proper precautions taken, you can minimize all of the above potential dangers of cycling, while enjoying its positive effects indefinitely.
So my advise here is to buy a good and reliable road bike, and hit the road. You will never again think of the negative effects of cycling.