Healthwise – Cycle your way to a strong lung

Authored Article by, Dr. Shivaraj A L, Consultant – Pulmonologist, Columbia Asia Hospital, Whitefield

Do you feel out of breath and tired after a few meters of peddling your way? Well, the best way out from this, is cycling and more cycling. While, it is a known fact that cycling can be the most productive means of reducing health risks, such as onset of a heart attack or diabetes, and obesity, not many are aware of the fact that cycling helps in strengthening your lungs, and increasing stamina.

Cycling is a great form of cardio exercise that supercharges your health. It is a low-impact exercise that people of all ages can do. Cycling offers several physiological and psychological health benefits.

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A strong heart and powerful lungs are the building blocks of great health, and regular course of cycling can ensure this. Being an aerobic exercise, cycling uses great gulps of oxygen. This is beneficial to the heart and lungs as they work together to bring oxygen and nutrients to the muscles. The lungs expand to bring as much oxygen into the body as possible; the heart beats faster to transport this oxygen around the body, thus ensuring an overall fit health.

Moreover, pedaling helps in increasing metabolic rate and the vital capacity of lungs. It also helps build stamina. Cycling can be highly beneficial to people who usually feels breathlessness in covering even small distances. It also helps increase the exercise tolerance in the body.

Food to boost stamina:

A regular dose of Vitamin E can further to boost your stamina level, making you fit for long cycling trips. Vitamin E is one of the best antioxidants that helps protect your cells, especially those in your muscles and lungs, which take a beating during intense cycling efforts. They help in improving lung health as well as breathing capacity at altitude. Eating a handful or two of almonds every day can be beneficial, as just one ounce (about 25 nuts) delivers more than a third of your daily requirement for this nutrient. One can also drizzle olive oil on the vegetables, salads, and grain dishes and eat nuts, eggs, leafy greens like spinach, and fortified cereals to get the rest. Try to avoid corn and soybean oil.

Precautions for asthma patients before cycling:

One of the most common questions among people who cycle is, if it is safe for people with asthma or other pulmonary/ respiratory complications. Prolonged exercise or physical exertion can lead to exercise-induced asthma. Most people with chronic asthma experience symptoms of asthma during exercise. However, there are also people without chronic asthma who develop symptoms only during exercise. There are various steps you can take for prevention of asthma symptoms that will allow you to maintain normal physical activity. In fact, many athletes — even Olympic athletes — compete with asthma.

For a person with asthma, the requirement of oxygen increases in the body and the person starts breathing through the mouth. A few warm up exercises before going for cycling can help you get used to the rigorous exercise. Although the amount of time one should cycle solely depends on the body tolerance, a 20-minute exercise in the morning and evening can be helpful.

People with acute episodes of asthma attacks, who are unable to walk for a week, should avoid cycling. It’s always advisable for them to rest for a week before going back to regular exercises.

Yoga to build stamina:

In order to build good stamina or lung capacity before taking up cycling regularly, one can start with brisk walking for at least 20 minutes. People can also opt for Yoga. Pranayam is one of the best exercises to help improve lung capacity. It’s advisable to do this for at least a month to increase the exercise tolerance of your body. After this, you can opt for cycling.

Here are a few tips that can help you cycle your way to a better lungs:

Breathe deeply

The key to good breathing on the bike is to ensure you’re using your lungs to their maximum potential. To do this, breathe the air deeply. This will help you improve your stamina.

Keep a check on your bike position

The diaphragm plays a very important role when it comes to breathing properly on a bike making it important to maximize its movement. This can be tricky and you’ll need to find a balance between being aero and getting enough oxygen around your body because going low on the bike robs your diaphragm of space to move. Experiment with different positions over a set course and see what works best for you.

Breathe from your stomach

To really get the most from your diaphragm, focus on breathing from your stomach, not your lungs. Put your hand on the upper part of your stomach and feel if it bulges out as you breathe in. When you feel this and see your chest rise, you’ll know you’re breathing through your stomach.

Breathe in through the mouth, out through the nose

Research suggests that inhaling through your mouth delivers more oxygen, while exhaling through the narrower space of your nostrils makes the process slower and so gives your lungs more time to suck as much oxygen out of each breath as possible.

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