The push for biking: why cycling is coming around again
Some say that four wheels move your body – but two wheels move your soul. Even if you’re not a regular biker, it’s obvious that cycling can offer huge physical, mental, environmental and even financial benefits to people, communities and businesses.
Cycling is a wonderful combination of exercise and fresh air – a dynamic duo that can have a positive effect on both your physical and mental health. It’s a great ‘starter’ sport as it’s low impact, putting your joints and muscles under less stress than, say, running. So you’re less likely to suffer with minor injuries and more likely to be able to keep up your new fitness regime.
In general, regular exercise can help lower your cholesterol levels, acting to prevent stroke, heart attacks and high blood pressure. If you’re looking to shift a few pounds, try putting your feet on the pedals rather than the floor – cycling can burn around double the calories that walking does. And depending on how fast and hard you’re going, that could amount to anything between 400 and 1,000 calories an hour.
Maintaining your balance engages those important core muscles and regular cycling helps increase your overall lean muscle mass. So you’ll continue to burn calories even after you’ve popped the bike in the garage and your bottom on the sofa.
Serious cyclists will tell you they focus on the rhythm of the ride: every turn of the pedal, each inward breath, even the feel of the wind on your face. Some riders describe it as a form of meditation and many people find cycling can ease feelings of stress, depression or anxiety. One study links cycling in the fresh air to improved cognitive function and increased wellbeing in older adults. So whatever your bike goals, use this as ‘zone out’ time to clear your mind, and leave your worries at the side of the road.
As a means of getting from A to B cycling is obviously more environmentally friendly than getting in the car or even taking the bus. Swapping even one car journey for a bike ride each day can actively help reduce carbon emissions: research from 2021 indicates that adopting this habit decreases your overall transportation carbon footprint by 62%.
And other than the occasional ring of your bell or a casual ‘excuse me’ to passers-by, it’s a pretty quiet activity too, so if we all get pedalling we could be helping silence the constant cacophony of cars and buses as well. This is important not only for people, but also for wildlife, as increased noise pollution can affect animals’ and birds’ ability to communicate, navigate and to find food or even a mate.
If you think about it, the more people who cycle, the more places there need to be to enjoy cycling. So pedal power can actually create a demand for more green spaces and help protect the countryside from urbanisation.
“We’re all conditioned to thinking that working from home or hybrid working are very much ‘the new normal’,” says Jane Hulme, HR Director at Unum UK, “but actually millions of people still travel to work, which has a cost implication for them. It’s one of the reasons that we offer a Cycle to Work scheme to our own employees – and of course it promotes all those other health and environmental benefits too.”
Under the Cycle to Work scheme, employees can exchange part of their monthly salary for a voucher which they can use to buy a bicycle, and/or cycling accessories before the deduction of Income Tax and National Insurance. This means, if you’re a basic rate taxpayer, that you can save 33.25%* on the cost of a new bike and accessories. And at the end of your agreement you can choose to pay the balance based on the Fair Market Value set out by HMRC and make the bike your own, or simply hand it back. With the Unum scheme, the bike goes back to the supplier and they donate it to charity.
“We’ve recently increased the voucher limit for Unum’s staff to up to £3,000,” explains Jane Hulme. “So even if you think you might not have the legs to get you all the way to work, there’s always the option of an electric bike!
“We think the Cycle to Work scheme is a great way to improve our employees’ mental and physical wellbeing. Other employers might like to consider the potential reduction in sickness absence this brings, and that, as part of a broader benefits package, it could help attract and retain employees. And by promoting an environmentally friendly commute, Cycle to Work helps your organisation’s Corporate Social Responsibility goals.”
* Based on current rates of Income Tax and National Insurance. Savings are greater for higher rate taxpayers.
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