Tour de France: the facts about cycling as exercise and marginal gains

It's Tour de France time again and there's no doubt that cycling has undergone a resurgence in popularity over the past few years. The annual coverage of the Tour and successes of British riders has certainly contributed to this; the roads are populated by increasing numbers of brightly-coloured Lycra®-wearing rouleurs on super-expensive carbon steeds.

There's no question that cycling and exercise have many health benefits. It's medically proven that people who do regular physical activity:

Getting out on a bike is good for you in many ways. However starting out can be intimidating for a beginner.

What are marginal gains?

Let's talk about how being a cycling novice doesn't need to be intimidating and where marginal gains fit into this idea. "Marginal gains" - as most followers of cycling as a sport will know - was the term coined by cycling's Team Sky and means the ability to improve lots of little things in order to bring your big objective closer.

Marginal gains add up to greater success. How can this apply to health and cycling? Well, there's no need to start with four-hour rides dressed in Lycra® on an all-out racing machine. A 20- minute commute to work or the shops on a daily basis, or even just on the dry days, can make a big difference to your health and wellbeing.

The bike doesn't have to be a racer either, and Lycra® is far from compulsory. A folding bike, such as a Brompton, can be left under the desk at work. Regular exercise should comfortably fit around and enhance normal life so that marginal gains result in cumulative health benefits.

Who knows where such a start will end? Ned Boulting, ITV 4's cycling commentator, has just ridden over the Col du Peyresoude mountain pass in the Pyrenees, to get to his hotel for the night. He did this on his Brompton folding bike - quite a commute!

Paul Simpson has over 20 years' experience as a GP and GP educator. He has completed the Sports and Exercise Medicine Diploma (Bath), and is keen to promote exercise for health. He is interested in all forms of cycling and, as a runner, is a regular competitor in many Lakeland fell races.


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