Top 10 health benefits of cycling for kids
29 September 2023 - Learning to Ride
Cycling is a wonderful activity that not only provides kids with an enjoyable experience but also offers a variety of health benefits, including cardiovascular health, enhanced strength, better balance and cognitive function, and improved mental health!
“Cycling is an important life skill and at the Bikeability Trust, we believe all children should have the opportunity to learn how to ride. As a form of active travel, cycling not only benefits the environment and our communities, but it is also a great way to stay fit. Children who cycle benefit from short and long-term health benefits, including increased overall fitness levels and stronger leg muscles and joints.
It is also fantastic for mental health – getting outside on your cycle in the fresh air is a great way to de-stress, socialise and release happy hormones, all of which are great for improving mood. We want all children to be able to access cycling and lead happier, healthier lives.”
Emily Cherry, CEO of the Bikeability Trust
We caught up with Hannah at Bumble Bee Physio, Mum to our ambassador Akaari, to discuss the top 10 health benefits of cycling.
1. Improved cardiovascular health
Cycling is a great form of aerobic exercise that can help improve cardiovascular health in kids. Cycling works the heart and lungs and improves endurance and stamina which is vital for having fun! Using the leg muscles requires a lot of oxygen, and gets the heart pumping, and the lungs breathing faster.
Over time, the heart and lungs become more efficient, and kids can cycle faster, for longer! But it’s not just cycling that it’s useful for. Cardiovascular health carries over into many other functional kids’ activities! Playing in playgrounds, climbing trees, running races, squatting to play in the sand, swimming in the sea. All of these things are more enjoyable with good cardiovascular fitness.
Hannah’s top tip: Create a family cycle log, and log how many miles you can cycle in the month! Plot them on a map and see how far you cycled.
2. Enhanced strength and muscle power
Cycling is also an excellent way to improve strength and muscle power in kids. It helps build muscle tone as well as improve their overall physical stamina.
Cycling and using a balance bike works the quadriceps (thigh muscles) and gluteals (hip muscles), making them strong, powerful and efficient! The motion of pushing the pedals (especially uphill!) or pushing along the floor on a balance bike, fires up those muscles and works them hard! Over time, they will get bigger and stronger, able to push further, and faster! This newfound strength will be so useful for all kinds of sports, from football to dance, cricket to basketball! By cycling regularly, kids can reduce their risk of injury and improve their ability to perform physical activities.
Hannah’s top tip: Find a hill and mark out an endpoint, such as a lamp post to cycle to. Next time, try and get a little further, and gradually increase your distance each time. This helps strengthen those muscles whilst adding a sense of fun and achievement.
3. Boosts child’s confidence
Cycling can help children gain confidence in themselves while improving self-esteem, even though it may appear to be all fun and games. Cycling can also help your child develop social skills by allowing them to engage with others while riding on trails or in a cycling class. Riding boosts self-esteem, allowing kids to become more self-assured. Cycling with your child can be a fun way to spend quality time together while improving muscle control and coordination and encouraging independence.
“That feeling of accomplishment is vital for children’s well-being and self-esteem! Cycling provides a clear, achievable and realistic goal for your child to feel great about! From cycling to the shops, the playground, to nursery or school, your child has travelled from A to B, themself! That’s something they will be proud of and cherish. Research shows that kids with a clear sense of self-worth are happier and perform better in school.”- Hannah Spink, Bumblebee Physiotherapy
4. Mental health improvements
Having adventures on two wheels is not just beneficial for physical health, but also for kids' mindsets. During cycling, endorphins are released, which are the body's natural mood boosters. In addition, the benefits extend beyond physical fitness, as the act of pedalling through the great outdoors fosters a sense of freedom and adventure. When kids hop on their bikes and start riding, their bodies release endorphins, those natural feel-good chemicals that can boost their mood. This combination of physical activity and the sheer joy of exploring their surroundings can help kids develop a more positive outlook on life, improve their self-esteem, and provide a healthy outlet for managing emotions. Moreover, cycling encourages a sense of independence and accomplishment, further enhancing a child's well-being.
5. Improved balance and coordination
Did you know that deep core stability helps kids to concentrate, sit still and focus in school? It requires the use of multiple muscle groups, which can help improve their overall body control. It can also help improve their balance, especially for kids who are still developing their motor skills.
Hannah suggests”Balancing on two wheels, whether it’s with or without pedals, gets those core muscles working super hard! The ability to stay upright requires many contractions of hundreds of tiny muscles! This forms muscle memories over time, making it easier and easier each time. It improves kids’ posture in sitting and standing, meaning their muscles are working in the most efficient way possible. They are less likely to slouch or have back and neck pain with a strong core, and with the muscles working in harmony, more oxygen will travel to their brain when concentrating on a new task!” Fascinating.
Hannah’s top tip: Measure your child’s balance by timing how long they can stand on one leg. Practice lots and lots of cycling, and measure again to see the improvement!
6. Better sleep quality
Taking kids out on bikes also helps them sleep better. Regular exercise can help regulate sleep patterns, making it easier for kids to fall asleep and stay asleep throughout the night. And as we know a good night's sleep is important for kids' overall health and well-being.
Kids sleep much better after exercise. Cycling is a combination of strength, endurance and stamina! Exercising makes kids fall asleep more rapidly than sedentary kids (great for adults too!) and has better sleep quality, with more consistent routines. Kids thrive off of good quality sleep with increased energy levels for play!
Hannah’s top tip: Try a nighttime cycle with lights on before bed! Have a calming story after and watch your kids quickly drift off!
7. Strengthened immune system
The benefits of biking for kids include a stronger immune system. Regular exercise can help increase the production of white blood cells, which can help fight off infections and diseases. It can also help reduce the risk of chronic health conditions such as asthma and allergies.
8. Enhanced cognitive function
Children's cognitive function can also be improved by cycling. The benefits of regular exercise can include improved memory, attention, and decision-making abilities. It can also help reduce the risk of cognitive decline later in life.
Cycling is a fantastic method for kids to get outside and exercise while also teaching them essential life skills such as problem-solving, independence, creativity, and social interaction. It's easy to forget, with all of the technological advancements over the last few decades, how beneficial playing outside can be for both parents and children. Outside play not only helps your children improve their motor skills, but it also allows them to get some exercise without having to stay inside all day!
Hannah commented, “Riding a balance bike from an early age is excellent for advancing cognitive function. Infants are naturally curious and highly active, wanting to explore anything and everything! The Frog Tadpole Mini is low to the ground and makes nature and the world easy to see and reach for a toddler! By replacing the buggy with a bike your toddler’s mind will be stimulated like never before, as they explore this newly found freedom and venture outside. The independent movement allows a toddler to make their own choices - improving their ability to empathise, problem-solve and plan. The benefits don’t stop there! By choosing and exploring the world, toddlers' brains are stimulated much more than when they’re sedentary, leading to increased vocalising and speech. That’s your excuse to start swapping your 4 wheels for 2!”
Hannah’s top tip: Start encouraging and practising their holding-on skills from 6 months, to prepare them! Think rocking horses, seesaws and sit on toys.
9. Increased social interaction
The act of cycling is also a very effective way of increasing kids' social interaction. It is a fun activity that can be enjoyed with both friends and family and it can help improve communication and teamwork skills, which are important for overall social development.
Hannah states- “Riding a bike is a very social form of travelling! In the great outdoors, you can have all sorts of interactions with people. As kids become older, organised cycling events build friendships and communities. When toddlers use their balance bikes instead of buggies, they are closer to each other and able to motivate one another!”
10. Environmental Awareness
Cycling introduces children to eco-friendly transportation alternatives. It helps them develop a greater appreciation for the environment and encourages them to reduce their carbon footprint. Adults who cycle and demonstrate eco-friendly behaviours set a powerful example for children. When kids see their parents or caregivers embracing cycling as a sustainable choice, they are more likely to follow suit.
Car-free family, The Shreeve Family cycle everywhere they can. They have been car-free as a couple since 2009 and as a family since 2013. Their girls are similarly sustainability-minded and love cycling. Maya our ambassador loves her Frog City bike and you might see her cycling to school or around London with her family.
“Enjoy the ride: Take the safety route, not the fastest route. Life doesn’t all have to be about racing from here to there. When cycling with kids, the more indirect, quieter routes can also be the most fun. If the girls are cycling their Frog Bikes on the road alongside Mummy & Daddy, I’d typically scope the route first, with the girls cycling on dedicated cycleways or the quieter low-traffic neighbourhood streets where there’s limited through traffic.”- Mat Shreeve- JAMM Innovation Ltd and Dad to Maya and Anya
A significant benefit of cycling is its minimal impact on the environment. By choosing to cycle instead of driving, kids can help reduce air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. Encouraging kids to cycle fosters a sense of environmental responsibility. They become more attuned to their surroundings, appreciate the beauty of nature, and develop a stronger connection to the environment.
Cycling is a great way for kids to improve their overall health and well-being. From improved cardiovascular health to increased social interaction, the benefits of cycling are aplenty. So, encourage your kids to start cycling today and promote a healthier and happier lifestyle.