A study in Australia aims to discover whether excessive cycling among recreational riders leads to heart issues, in what is claimed to be the first such research in the world.
While numerous studies have established the benefits of cycling for heart health, Dr Daniel Wundersitz, a research fellow at La Trobe University in Bendigo, Victoria, decided to investigate whether too much cycling causes heart problems after a “worrying trend” was identified among the number of cyclists presenting to Bendigo Health with heart arrhythmias.
He told ABC that while studies have been conducted focusing on elite athletes, nothing has been done relating to recreational riders.
“[The] worst-case scenario would be that a certain amount of endurance exercise would lead to changes in the way the heart functions,” he said.
“We don't know enough in this area, there's a lot of research in the elite athletes but what about the recreational people,” he continued.
He is seeking not to deter people from getting in the saddle, but to ascertain whether excessive exercise can cause heart problems, as well as how cycling compares to other types of aerobic exercise in terms of its effect on the heart.
The 60 participants are first tested to measure their fitness, then undergo a health scan and are given a monitoring device to take home for five days so their heart’s regular electrical activity can be measured.
They then undergo six hours of moderate-to-high-intensity endurance exercise on a static bike, wearing a facemask attached to a metabolic cart to measure how they breathe.
“The face mask is looking at their oxygen consumption and carbon dioxide production,” Dr Wundersitz explained.
“We look at those gases to determine their VO2 max, or the maximum amount of oxygen they can consume.”
Finally, four or five days after the bike ride, subjects are tested so that the effect of the exercise on their heart can be measured.
Previous studies we have reported on here on road.cc tend to focus on the benefits to heart and lung health of riding a bike for everyday tasks, including commuting – including one from researchers at Imperial College, London and the University of Cambridge, suggests that more people cycling or walking to work could reduce deaths from conditions including heart disease.
The study analysed data relating to 300,000 commuters in England and Wales from 1991 to 2016 with its findings including that, compared to those who drove to work, during the study period, people who cycled had:
a 20 per cent reduced rate of early death
a 24 per cent reduced rate of death from cardiovascular disease (which includes heart attack and stroke)
a 16 per cent reduced rate of death from cancer, and
an 11 per cent reduced rate of a cancer diagnosis.
Simon has been news editor at road.cc since 2009, reporting on 10 editions and counting of pro cycling’s biggest races such as the Tour de France, stories on issues including infrastructure and campaigning, and interviewing some of the biggest names in cycling. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, his background has proved invaluable in reporting on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, and the bike industry. He splits his time between London and Cambridge, and loves taking his miniature schnauzer Elodie on adventures in the basket of her Elephant Bike.