You’re probably already aware that cycling provides several key health benefits. For starters, it’s a cardiovascular exercise, which means it’s good for heart health and may help reduce a person’s likelihood of developing cardiovascular disease. It’s also an excellent way of maintaining mental health, including managing conditions like mild depression and anxiety. What you might not have realised, however, is that cycling is also good for the skin, and we wanted to find out why and what this could mean for anyone who rides regularly.
Does exercise make your skin glow?
Whether running, cycling or rowing, cardiovascular exercise is designed to get the heart beating faster and increase blood flow. Increased blood flow means more oxygen is circulated more quickly around the body, permeating skin cells with nutrients. The more nourished skin is, the healthier it will look and feel; this is one reason a person’s complexion may appear to glow.
Exercise helps facilitate waste removal
And better circulation also means toxins that aren’t good for us can be transported away quickly to the kidneys. Speaking to Byrdie, Peterson Pierre MD says exercise ‘will … accelerate the removal of waste products and free radicals, thereby protecting the skin from further damage.’ Free radicals are described by Dr Noelani Gonzalez, M.D., as ‘unstable molecules that can cause damage to our cells’. Things can get a little complicated, but Dr Gonzalez explains that these free radicals can cause DNA damage which in turn causes ‘acceleration in skin ageing'.
Writing for Psychology Today, Mark E. Williams, MD., says that exercise is an ‘important tool in preventing the free-radical damage associated with ageing’ and that by ‘boosting the body’s antioxidant defence systems’ [it] can reverse some of the damage.
Several studies have concluded similar things, including one in The New York Times, where volunteers aged 65 years and over were asked to workout for between 30 to 45 minutes twice a week at 65% of their maximum heart rate. The volunteers all had sedentary lifestyles prior to starting but for the experiment began a regimen of jogging or cycling. Researchers compared the skin cells at the beginning and end of the experiment. They were astonished to see that the outer and inner skin layers (those most affected by ageing) now looked different, like that of a significantly younger person.
Exercise could reverse elasticity loss
Our skin loses elastin as we age. Elastin allows skin tissue to stretch out and shrink back; when we lose it, skin hangs more loosely, making us look older. Several factors can affect skin elasticity, including our DNA, diet, lifestyle (smoking, for example), and UV exposure. But one study found that exercise can help reduce some of this loss in elasticity by ‘improving the metabolism of your skin cells…in the same way, that exercise boosts your body’s metabolic rate.’ Cycling may not be as dramatic as a facelift, but it’s cheaper. One thing worth noting is that exercise does not appear to reverse ageing caused by UV damage, so it’s essential to wear sun protection when cycling outdoors.
Does Exercise Help Improve Acne?
As our body temperature rises during exercise, we start sweating, which helps flush out the dirt and oil in our pores that can lead to acne breakouts. So exercise can help improve acne, but washing your face as soon as possible after exercising is essential. Sweat sitting on your face for prolonged periods can exacerbate skin conditions, including acne. If you’re taking an indoor cycling class, hit the bathroom or shower once you’re workout is over. Outdoor cyclists should take face wipes to remove sweat before it becomes a problem.
Indirect benefits of cycling for skin
We know that exercise reduces the number of stress hormones in the body. We’ve written before about how helpful exercise in the workplace can be in reducing burnout and stress-related sick days, but it’s more than just beneficial for employees. According to Everyday Health, skin is both ‘an immediate stress perceiver’ and ‘a target of stress responses’. Essentially, our skin responds to chronic stress in ways that are likely to worsen conditions like acne or psoriasis. And when we’re stressed, we produce a stress hormone called cortisol which causes the body to overproduce oil in the skin, which will cause breakouts. Cycling reduces stress and the production of cortisol, keeping your skin looking clearer and healthier.
Another benefit of cycling for the skin is that exercise helps people sleep better. Studies show that people with poor sleep quality recorded higher sleep age scores than those who slept well. Good sleep is fundamental to overall health, so it’s great to see that exercising to facilitate sleep hygiene could help maintain healthier skin.
Are there any disadvantages to cycling for skin?
As we mentioned earlier, failing to wash your face after exercising can lead to acne breakout. If you’re taking an indoor cycling class, you should also be careful about touching surfaces and your face because you don’t want bacteria on the equipment to transfer onto your skin.
Outdoor cyclists must also be mindful of exposure to high levels of UV radiation. Sun damage is something that even vigorous amounts of cycling won’t reverse, and it also puts you at risk of developing skin cancer.
Cycling is a fantastic way to exercise and one that’s benefits go much further than heart health alone. Studies show that cardiovascular exercise can help reduce and (in some instances) reverse signs of ageing. People pay thousands of pounds for the pills and procedures to look good, so maybe now is a great time to take up cycling because the benefits are more than just skin deep.
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