They're an exercise staple for many people, but are exercise bikes good for weight loss? Cycling is certainly a good option for anyone looking for a new way to work out; the activity can have an effect on muscle mass and basal metabolic rate (BMR) — the calories you burn when the body is at rest, not exercising. In fact, a study from the Medical and Science in Sports and Exercise journal revealed that just 30-45 minutes of cycling could boost your BMR and keep it raised for most of the day.
Put simply, when you push and pull on the pedals of a good exercise bike, you meet resistance, which helps build muscle and increases the rate you torch calories, which can promote weight loss.
"Compared with other types of cardio workouts, cycling doesn’t put stress on your joints yet still builds strength and endurance, so it’s a great low impact option," says spinning instructor and menopause coach Kate Rowe-Ham.
Related: How to get fit
"Spinning, also known as indoor cycling, can be a great way to start a training program and, as your weight drops, you may find other forms of exercise easier to do, such as High Intensity Interval Training or running," she says.
So are they one of the best exercise machines for weight loss? Well, the American Heart Association says they are a great way to increase cardiovascular fitness (an important marker of physical health that refers to how well your heart, lungs, muscles and blood work together while you exercise) and the choice of live and on-demand classes means they are suitable for most personal levels of fitness.
What are the weight loss benefits?
"Exercise bikes are good for weight loss because they are a really efficient and effective way to burn calories, and cycling is a cardiovascular aerobic activity that has added benefits such as strengthening your heart, lungs and muscles," says Rowe-Ham.
It does this by increasing your heart rate and respiration, says Rowe-Ham. "It challenges your internal organs, therefore improving the function of the heart, lungs and circulatory system."
While this is true on a general level, it's the intensity of your workout on an exercise bike that will affect how much weight you could lose, says Rowe-Ham.
"Working out to a higher intensity will help burn calories and build strength, which can lead to fat loss, alongside a healthy diet," she says. "The magic spot of intensity is a bit of a mystery as every individual is different and it depends on your starting weight, but it has been said that you can burn around 400-600 calories a session."
Studies have also shown that exercise influences our body’s sensitivity to insulin.
Insulin is one of the body’s many hormones and it helps to regulate its energy supply, according to the International Journal of Molecular Sciences. The role of insulin in the body is to trigger the release of glucose from stored glycogen, which will be broken down to release energy to cells. Transversely will signal for excess glucose to be converted and stored in the liver or muscles as glycogen. The human body can only store around 21 oz (600 grams) of glycogen before any excess is converted to a type of fat called a triglyceride and stored as body fat, according to the journal Nutrition Reviews.
When we exercise our muscles cells are more efficient at using the available insulin and taking up glucose from glycogen for the release of energy, according to the American Diabetes Association. Research has found that a "single bout of moderate intensity exercise" can increase the rate of glucose uptake by at least 42%, according to the journal Diabetes Care.
How much impact can exercise bikes make?
Being in a calorie deficit — burning more calories than you use — is the key to dropping pounds. One pound of fat equals about 3,500 calories according to Scientific American Medicine journal so to lose 1lb (around 0.45 kilograms) a week, we need to burn off 3,500 more calories than we take in. You can do this by diet alone, but regular indoor cycling on an exercise bike could speed up the process.
According to Harvard Medical School a 155-pound person can burn about 260 calories riding an exercise bike for just 30 minutes. A 125-pound person would burn 210 calories in the same workout, while a 185-pound person would burn 311 calories. And that’s not all. A Medicina study found that indoor cycling could improve body composition, as well as aerobic capacity and blood pressure.
"The intensity and frequency of your workouts will affect the number of calories you burn each session," says Rowe-Ham. "If you add more resistance the harder you’ll have to work."
Are exercise bikes good for a healthy lifestyle?
In most instances a balanced diet is integral to a healthy lifestyle but if you want to improve overall health, then try upping your protein intake as part of your exercise bike program. Why? Because our muscles need protein, the "building blocks" of the body, for growth and repair.
Eating protein after a workout can help restore the muscle fibers that were broken down during exercise, which also helps reduce DOMS (Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness) and recovery time. If you lack protein your muscles may struggle to maintain their health and weaken, a process known as "atrophy".
And as we’ve said before, building your cardiovascular fitness can improve heart health and lung capacity, which helps the body to work more efficiently and can boost immunity.
Related: Does running build muscle?
Any other benefits?
Regular exercise on a bike not only raises the heart rate and gets the blood pumping, according to Rowe-Ham. "It can also help improve sleep, reduce stress and boost mood, all of which can impact weight loss," she said.
"After a few weeks of regular cycling, your back muscles will get stronger and your joints will move more easily, which can help you fall asleep – and stay asleep – more easily," Rowe-Ham said.
In addition to dulling brain activity in the frontal lobe, too little sleep also hampers your metabolism and can contribute to weight gain. A study published in the International Journal of Endocrinology found that a lack of sleep could alter the hormones involved in regulating weight and metabolism, causing the body to produce less leptin (the hormone that decreases appetite) and more ghrelin (responsible for hunger).
A similar thing happens when we’re stressed, explains Rowe-Ham: "The body produces more of the stress hormone cortisol, which signals to the body that we are in 'fight or flight' mode and might need to respond to danger or a perceived danger — so instead of using the fat in our body as energy, it stores it as a reserve."
So, are exercise bikes good for weight loss? "If you can commit to a regular plan, increasing your intensity and resistance as you get fitter and stronger, they are great for fat loss," says Rowe-Ham. They are suitable for all fitness abilities, and you can do a workout in the comfort of your own home, regardless of the weather.
And if you’re trying to lose weight, or reduce body fat. "It’s always important to remember that a healthy diet alongside a regular indoor cycling program all year round will give you maximum gains," says Rowe-Ham. Not only that, you'll likely be fitter and can benefit from better sleep too.
Read more: Peloton vs Echelon: which is better?
- NHS: Better Health
- World Health Organization (WHO): Guidance on physical activity
- Harvard School of Public Health: Make exercise a daily habit – 10 tips
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Maddy has been a writer and editor for 25 years, and has worked for some of the UK's bestselling newspapers and women’s magazines, including Marie Claire, The Sunday Times and Women's Health. Maddy is also a fully qualified Level 3 Personal Trainer, specializing in helping busy women over 40 navigate menopause.
- Scott DutfieldContributor