Get on your bike for a healthier outlook

Mark Lansdown
Mark Lansdown
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The Grand Depart has inspired many to take up cycling. katie baldwin has the experts’ view on keeping safe

It’s now less than two weeks until the Tour de France comes to Yorkshire.

And the arrival of the Grand Depart has got everyone thinking about cycling, from the best bike routes to encouraging more people to take to two wheels.

But if you’re thinking of following on the trail of the bikers, it’s best to take some expert advice – especially if you’re new to the activity.

And a Leeds doctor, himself a keen cyclist, has compiled his guide to getting the most out of it, while staying safe.

Mark Lansdown, consultant surgeon at Spire Leeds Hospital in Roundhay, rides his bike to work daily and has completed a Lands End to John O’Groats cycling challenge as well as riding the 145-mile Stage One of the Yorkshire Tour de France route.

He said: “There are benefits to the cardiovascular and respiratory system, but cycling may also slow mental aging.

“If you’ve not cycled for a long time, no specific preparation is necessary if you start gently, but as the intensity of cycling and distances increase, then stretching exercises before and after cycling become more important.”

Mr Lansdown says that training programmes depend on the individual’s level of fitness, and how seriously they want to take it.

“For most people just gradually increasing distance and speed is enough, but others can benefit from the services of a coach,” he added.

“A coach can work with you to set and monitor your training objectives whether they are weight loss or preparation for racing. If you are returning to exercise after a long break or have any medical condition that might affect your ability to exercise, it is always advisable to discuss your plans with your GP.”

Injuries are the main worry for anyone doing regular sports, and cycling is no different.

Not overdoing it too soon and ensuring your bike is properly set up are vital, says the surgeon.

“If your bike is adjusted badly, you can develop pain anywhere from your feet to your neck and all the bits in between,” he said.

“There are plenty of sites on the web with general advice and even an iPhone app. The best option however is a proper bike fit from a specialist through a good bike shop, though that can be expensive.

“The most common complaint I hear from fellow cyclists is soreness from the saddle.

“Saddle choice is very personal – one size certainly does not fit all. Some cycle shops can measure you or even loan saddles to try. High-quality padded shorts and chamois cream help but the problem generally subsides as you get used to longer distances and more time in the saddle.

“Stretching exercises can help prevent some aches and pains but you might want to try other exercises as well. Consider Pilates and Yoga to strengthen the core muscles. But always remember if your bike is not adjusted properly you will be more prone to aches and pains after your ride.”

If you do pick up a minor injury, treat it with mild analgesic painkillers and rest, but anything more serious or persistent should be discussed with a physiotherapist or your GP, he added.

And safety while you’re out riding is vital too – check your bike before you set off, especially the brakes. Stay on quiet roads at first or join a scheme or club to help build confidence.

“Be familiar with the Highway Code and always wear a helmet,” he added.

NHS bosses also urged cyclists to stay safe.

Dr Damian Riley, NHS England medical director for the north, said: “It is encouraging to see so many people taking to their bikes to keep fit and healthy, and with Le Tour just around the corner, it is a great time to do so. “However, to avoid any injuries, such as strains and sprains, cyclists should be completing a sufficient warm-up, including stretching.

“Cyclists taking to the road should be prepared and wear high-visibility clothing so motorists and pedestrians can clearly identify them. They should also wear a correctly-fitting helmet to help reduce the risk of head injury in case they are involved in an accident or fall.”

* For more information, visit www.britishcycling.org.uk.

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