Whether or not you currently own a bike and enjoy cycling or are looking for a new fun way of getting in some exercise, you’re probably wondering how long you need to spend in the saddle to meet your personal goals.
Everybody is unique, and your goals and starting point could be very different from those of others, so we’ll have a look at a few examples.
Please note, this article is not intended to provide medical advice, it simply seeks to evaluate the effectiveness of cycling for a number of fitness-related goals. You should consult your doctor prior to starting any exercise program.
Is 30 Minutes of Cycling Enough?
According to The Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, adults should aim for 150 minutes of moderate cardio, or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity cardio weekly. Therefore, 30 minutes of moderate cycling 5 days a week or 30 minutes of high-intensity cycling 3 times a week meets this requirement.
The Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) defines moderate-intensity cardio as anything that requires about the same amount of energy as a brisk walk.
So if you’re cycling for five 30-minute sessions weekly at around the equivalent intensity as a brisk walk then you’re getting the recommended amount of aerobic exercise (cardio) as defined by the US government governing body.
Likewise, if you’re cycling 30 minutes 3 times per week at a higher intensity, equivalent to going for a jog or a run, then you’re also doing just fine according to the CDC.
This isn’t exactly the full picture though, as to assess whether 30 minutes of cycling is ‘enough’ or not, we need to recognize that there are a number of different goals that you could be looking to achieve with cycling.
For example, you could be looking to lose weight, work towards your first triathlon, or just generally maintain a healthy cardiovascular system.
Now we’ve seen that 3 – 5 sessions of 30 minutes of cycling weekly are enough to maintain a healthy cardiovascular system dependent on intensity, let’s take a look at some more specific goals and how they can be reached with cycling.
It’s important to note that the CDC recommendations also include 2 weekly sessions of muscle-strengthening activity for all of the major muscle groups, separate from the aerobic activity recommendations. These muscle-strengthening activity requirements are not entirely satisfied by cycling.
Is 30 Minutes of Cycling Good for Weight Loss?
30 minutes of cycling multiple times per week (3-5 times) is extremely beneficial for weight loss. 30 minutes of cycling can burn 250 – 750 calories or more dependent on the exercise intensity and fitness levels of the cyclist. This coupled with a healthy caloric deficit will promote weight loss.
Cycling is great for weight loss as it works the cardiovascular system hard whilst activating lots of muscle tissue in the body. The biggest muscle group in the body, the legs, are worked most from cycling, but other muscle groups such as the back, abdominals, and even the arms and shoulders are all used.
The fact that cycling activates virtually all of the major muscle groups in the body means that it burns a shed load of calories. However, there is one law of weight loss that has to be abided by if you want to see any progress:
To lose weight, you must be in a calorie deficit.
So what is a calorie deficit? ‘Calorie Deficit’ simply refers to the state the body is in when you eat fewer calories through food than your body needs to sustain its current weight.
For example, if you eat 2,000 calories per day and require 2,000 calories per day to maintain your weight, your weight will stay the same.
If you then introduce 30 minutes of cycling 3 times a week burning 500 calories each time, you then have 3 days per week where your body is burning an additional 500 calories. On those days due to the extra exercise you’re doing, your body actually needs 2,500 calories to maintain its current weight.
Therefore if you keep eating 2,000 calories per day and there are 3 days per week where your body needs 2,500 calories, you’ll be in a fairly aggressive calorie deficit of -500 for those 3 days which will in turn result in you losing weight over time.
If you increase or decrease the intensity, frequency, or duration of your cycling sessions whilst keeping your calories the same, your rate of weight loss will increase or decrease to match those changes.
The key point to take away from this section is that cycling is a great tool for weight loss, however, diet is crucial to losing weight no matter what exercise regimen you follow. If you cycle 2 hours per day whilst eating 10,000 calories every day, you’re not going to lose any weight.
Is 30 Minutes of Cycling Per Day Good for Fitness?
30 minutes of cycling daily is great for cardiovascular health and muscular endurance. 30 minutes per day satisfies the aerobic activity recommendations from The Centers for Disease Control & Prevention which advises 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity weekly.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends 150 minutes of moderate exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic exercise weekly. Therefore 30 minutes of cycling daily is more than enough.
It is important to note however that exercising every single day can be very hard on the body, so it is a good idea to take at least 1 rest day per week.
If you’d rather not take a day off then you can still give your body a chance to recover by moderating the intensity of your workouts so that you aren’t going 100% every day, taking a couple of your sessions each week as ‘active recovery’, you’re still exercising but at a very low intensity.
A good rule of thumb for lower-intensity sessions is that you should be able to hold a conversation whilst riding. This indicates that you aren’t exerting yourself too much on those active rest days.
How Many Calories Are Burned in 30 Minutes of Cycling?
Cycling burns 250 – 750 calories or more in a 30-minute period. There’s a wide range in the calories burned whilst cycling due to differences in energy expenditure based on exercise intensity, as well as the fitness level and body composition of the individual cyclist.
Intensity can vary based on the speed traveled, the ground you’re cycling over (think of riding through sand vs. riding on concrete), the incline of the path or trail, etc.
Is 30 Minutes of Cycling Enough on a Stationary Bike?
Cycling for 30 minutes on a stationary bike or spin bike is a good workout provided that the bike’s resistance is set to be challenging. To make a stationary bike session feel more like the real thing, vary the resistance setting and therefore the intensity throughout.
What is a Good Distance to Cycle in 30 Minutes?
Cycling 5 miles in 30 minutes is a good starting point for a beginner, whereas an advanced cyclist can double this, cycling 10 or more miles in a 30-minute period. These estimates assume reasonably flat terrain, a significant incline or decline will of course affect these numbers considerably.
It’s difficult to give accurate numbers for the distance you can expect to cycle in 30 minutes as there are so many variables such as the terrain, how steep the trail or path is, your fitness, the condition of your bike, and so on.
That said, working towards 10 miles in a 30-minute period on relatively flat ground is a good target as this gives an average speed of 20mph – a pretty respectable goal for most people.
Is Cycling Better Than Running?
Cycling and running are both excellent forms of aerobic exercise. They are virtually equal in terms of how much they benefit the cardiovascular system when frequency, intensity, and duration are matched. Cycling has the added benefit of being low-impact, resulting in less stress on the knees.
As I mentioned, cycling and running are equally beneficial in terms of the benefits to the cardiovascular system. Therefore, you should select which type of exercise best matches your body type and interests as ultimately the best exercise routine to follow is the one you can stick to long term.
One of the key differences that often ends up being the deciding factor between running and cycling is that cycling has a lower impact on the knee and hip joints. Therefore, those with bad hips and/or knees may be best suited to cycling.
On the flip side, a major benefit of running is the fact that it is a high-impact activity as this has been proven to increase bone density. This is particularly valuable in combatting the natural decrease in bone density that comes with getting older.
The Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans – The Centers for Disease Control & Prevention
The Effectiveness of Physical Exercise on Bone Density in Osteoporotic Patients – National Centre for Biotechnology Information