Cycling - Burn Calories and Lose Weight
By Rebecca Walton, wlr team
During recent months cycling has boomed with bike sales going through the roof - but can cycling help you lose weight? Find out how many calories are burned cycling with our calculator charts, and discover how cycling is great for weight loss, fitness and health.
Whether you're thinking of riding a bike through country lanes or using an exercise bike indoors, cycling can be a powerful tool to help you lose weight - burning a whopping 50% more calories than walking for the time spent! A fantastic activity for increasing your fitness level, regular cycling has some impressive health benefits too.
We'll answer the three most important questions when it comes to choosing an exercise activity:
- How many calories does cycling burn? (Including charts so you can see how many calories you burn)
- Can you lose weight with cycling?
- What are the additional benefits of cycling to fitness and health?
Q1. How Many Calories Does Cycling Burn?
Cycling really packs a punch as an accessible, everyday activity calorie burner... For the same time spent riding around (or using a stationary bike) you'll burn more calories than walking briskly, or even doing low impact aerobics!
On average, cycling burns over 50% more calories than walking, minute for minute...
For an average woman*, just a 30 minute moderate cycling session will burn 202 calories, an average man* will burn 225 calories. Increase this to an hour and women will burn 404 cals, while men will burn 450.
Up the effort level to a more vigorous pace and an average woman will burn 314 calories in a 30 minute session, with an average man clocking up 358 (that's 628 and 716 cals burned respectively for an hours cycling).
Calculate how many calories you burn cycling
Take a look at our cycling calorie charts below to plot your weight and calculate how many calories you'd burn by jumping on a bike.
*Based on an average woman of 5'5", 11st and aged 40, and an average man of 5'10", 13st, aged 40.
So cycling really helps you burn a substantial amount of calories without having to spend hours in the gym, but how can this help you to lose weight...
Q2. Can you lose weight with cycling?
Weight loss comes down to a simple truth... if you use more calories than you put into your body, you will lose weight. Simple in concept, but many of us struggle to implement this in practical and sustainable ways.
You need a calorie deficit of 500 per day to lose 1lb a week, and 1000 per day to lose 2lb a week - that's 500 or 1000 less calories than your body needs each day.
It follows that activities which give you a 'good bang for your buck' in terms of calorie burn can be a huge help when trying to lose weight. They help you to achieve a calorie deficit, keeping the balance tipped in the right direction for weight loss.
As we saw earlier, cycling burns significant calories for the time spent - 50% more than walking, so it's easy to see how regular cycling (for leisure, commuting or as a workout) can help you to achieve your weight loss goals.
What does the science say?
An increase of 30min/day cycling compared with no activity or gentle walking resulted in significant weight loss - with the benefits of cycling as a weight management tool being considerably stronger among those who were overweight. These are robust findings from the Harvard School of Public Heath1, which followed 18,414 women for 16 years.
There is a dose-response relationship between time spent cycling and weight change. As the time spent cycling increased, so did the positive benefit in terms of weight loss. The data showed that even small amounts of time spent getting on a bike can make a difference.
The study also highlights that walking briskly can be difficult for those who are overweight, suffer from arthritis or other disabilities... Whereas cycling can be a more appropriate and do-able exercise due to it's non weight bearing nature and reduced pressure on the joints.
Why is cycling a good choice for weight loss?
In order for an activity to become part of a successful strategy to help you lose weight and keep it off, it needs to be accessible, inexpensive and ultimately something you can do without causing a lot of discomfort.
Cycling has all of these advantages, and more:
- High calorie burn
- Proven impact on weight and BMI
- Accessible and inexpensive
- Can be done outdoors, or indoors (with a stationary bike)
- Easy on your joints (non weight bearing)
- No monthly gym membership necessary
- Fits into your own schedule (no class start times etc)
Q3. What are the fitness and health benefits of cycling?
Aside from being a great calorie burner and tool to help weight loss, cycling has additional compelling benefits to your health and fitness...
What's the impact of cycling on overall fitness?
Just a few kilometres cycling, a few times a week, can have a marked improvement on cardio-respiratory performance (a measure of fitness level), of up to 30%! This is particularly true for those with low initial fitness levels, according to research published in 'Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise'2.
And you don't need to ride for hours to achieve a positive result - in fact an increase in distance from 3km to 6km provided more fitness gain than from 15km to 18km... Encouraging results for those who are just starting out with trying to get a bit more fit and healthy.
Big increases in your fitness level with cycling can be achieved at relatively low levels... A woman only need burn 1000 kcals/week, and a man only 1500 kcals/week (as calculated by a study in 'British Journal of Sports Medicine'3). Using our average calorie burn figures from the charts above, this translates to approx. 150 mins/week for women (2.5 hours), and 210 mins/week for men (3.5 hours).
All of this shows that cycling really is an all round manageable activity for significant benefits to your fitness level.
Are there any additional health benefits?
- Decreased risk of all-cause mortality (20% risk reduction with less than 1hr/day, 30% with 100 mins/day or more)
- Decreased risk of CVD (cardio-vascular disease) and symptoms of metabolic syndrome (20% risk reduction with up to 3.5hrs/week)
- Decreased risk of colon cancer morbidity by around 20% with 1 hr daily cycling
- Overall decreased risk of cancer morbidity with regular cycling
How do I get started?
The great thing about cycling is it really doesn't need much to get going. Start off with manageable sessions and work your way up either by increasing your time spent, or by working a little harder.
If you can manage to do 30 minute sessions of moderate cycling, 3-5 times a week, you're well on your way to seeing some hugely positive results - more calories burned, increased fitness level, and reduced risk of common health conditions.
Check out the tables above to plot your weight and see just how many calories you can burn with both 30 minutes or 1 hour. If you're unsure which exertion level you should be looking at, take a look at our handy guide:
You get all the benefits - whether you're enjoying the fresh air outside, or multi-tasking with watching your favourite show on the telly while on an exercise bike.
You can try the tools and databases in Weight Loss Resources, free for 24 hours, to find out:
- How many calories you need in a day for weight loss
- Get a more detailed calorie burn for cycling (or any other exercise) based on your exact personal details
- Calculate the calories you burn cycling for different amounts of time or different speeds
Find out how many calories you need to lose weight, and how many you burn during exercise - you can try the tools and databases in Weight Loss Resources, free for 24 hours. Start a free trial today.
1. 'Bicycle Riding, Walking and Weight Gain in Premenopausal Women', Lusk et al. Archives of Internal Medicine, 2010
2. 'Effect of Commuter Cycling on Physical Performance of Male and Female Employees', Hendriksen et al. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 2000
3. 'Determining the Intensity and Energy Expenditure During Commuter Cycling', De Geus et al. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 2007
4. 'Health Benefits of Cycling: A Systematic Review', Oja et al. Scandanavian Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports, 2011