Cycling versus running, Dr Bianca Cooper gives the rundown

Cycling versus running

The positive influence which fitness holds over both our mental and physical health is undeniable. Moreover, as we learned during the lockdown’s restriction, we do not always require sporting equipment or a gym membership to achieve our goals. In actual fact, a good serving of effort coupled with some sound guidance will yield extraordinary results. 

As the Heart and Stroke Foundation South Africa explains, physical activity benefits everyone, from children to senior citizens—at the end of the day, exercise improves your quality of life while reducing your risk of heart disease and strokes.

Exercise also provides other health benefits, such as:

  • Reduces your risk of cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes
  • Lowering cholesterol levels and improving ‘good’ cholesterol levels
  • Lowering blood sugar
  • Improving blood circulation
  • Exercises your heart, keeping it healthy.
  • Improves your mental health and mood since it relieves stress, tension, anger and depression as a result of ‘feel-good’ hormones being released during physical activity.
  • Improves mental acuity and wellness because physical activity increases blood flow and hence oxygen to the brain.
  • It also improves your immune system.

Two popular home-based options to choose from are running or cycling. We look at these two activities and leave it up to you to decide which best suits your lifestyle.


Running at a steady pace of 10km/h can burn 1 550kJ in 30 minutes. In fact, running is one of the best kilojoule burners and helps keep your heart healthy. It also strengthens muscles and helps build strong bones, as it is a weight-bearing exercise.


Cycling at a steady pace of 20km/h can burn 1 400kJ in 30 minutes.

When looking at the importance of cycling, Dr Bianca Cooper, Principal Clinical Manager Mediclinic Newcastle, explains cycling is a much lower impact exercise than running, so it is kinder to your joints, and you are less prone to injuries, especially over the longer distances. “We all know that Comrades runner who is always complaining of this niggle and that ache. This also means you can keep cycling much later in life. The fairly recent introduction of e-bikes means those who are less fit, older or who have other physical limitations, can still ride with their friends and enjoy an outdoor sport.”

Dr Cooper adds, running holds numerous other benefits – you get a lot more exercise done in a short space of time, and it is much easier just to put on shoes and go for a jog, especially if you’re on holiday. Many cyclists cross-train with running.”

How often should people cycle and what are the distances the average person should work on? The doctor emphasises that like all exercise, a person should aim for at least 30 minutes most days of the week. 

However, how far depends on how fit you are, and how use to a bicycle one is. Being a member of the Wheelers Cycling Club, Dr Cooper says they ride for time, not for distance on most days. She highlights, “I would suggest an hour a day most weekdays and then at least one longer ride on the weekend. Six months of this would be enough to get someone from zero to capable of finishing the Cape Town Cycle Tour or Joburg’s 94.7. It is important with cycling to start small and build up – not just for fitness and to avoid injury – but to get used to the position on the bike and sitting on the saddle.”

Furthermore, she stresses there is no point jumping in at the deep end, riding for four hours and then being too sore to ride for the next few weeks. “As you get fitter, you can add more time and push a bit harder. For ultra-distance events, we use the rule of thumb that if you can ride the distance of the event over the course of a week, you should be fit enough to finish,” affirms the doctor. 

However, as mentioned, running merely requires a pair of running shoes, but when looking at cycling, what are the expenses? 

According to Dr Cooper, it is one of the more expensive sports to get involved in regarding the initial outlay. While there are very cheap department store bicycles out there, she stresses you are better off spending a bit more budget at a reputable bike store, as you will enjoy your ride more if you aren’t fighting the bike and continually having to replace parts. “A good bicycle shop will also ensure that your new bike is the correct size and fit. It isn’t necessary to buy all the equipment straight away – one really only needs the bicycle, helmet, basic repair kit and sturdy tekkies with good grip. A decent pair of cycling shorts will save you some chafing. The rest of the gear you can build up as you go along and become more enthusiastic.”

Once one has gotten started though, she points out the maintenance tends to be relatively cheap, until you have achieved some serious mileage, whereby parts need replacing.

If you keep your bike clean and well-maintained, things like chains and cassettes will last you longer. If you plan on riding in the early morning or late afternoon when visibility is low, you should invest in front and rear lights, and a reflective jacket or leg bands. However, there is costly top-of-the-range equipment that offers cyclists unique benefits, but for the most part, the majority of the population will not note many improvements from said equipment.

What advice would Dr Cooper give to people regarding cycling? “Don’t get discouraged if it is difficult at first, especially with regards to saddle discomfort. This really just takes time on the bike to improve. Always ensure you have your “in case of emergency” details on you and that someone knows where you are planning on riding, especially if you are going alone. People often feel they don’t have the free time to do a sport, and it is difficult when one has many commitments.”

However, the doctor points out that if she can fit regular training for an event like the 36one MTB Challenge into her work schedule (she works 12-hour shifts most days of the week), she believes most people can succeed.

“Also, don’t cave to peer pressure regarding what you should buy or how you should be riding – cycling should be fun for you! Some company can make cycling more enjoyable and safer. Newcastle Wheelers have daily early morning rides catering for all levels, both road and mountain bike, you can contact Jo 073 259 2926 to arrange a trial ride or join the Wheelers Cycling Club,” concludes Dr Cooper.

With this in mind, be sure to get your fitness levels up and improve your health for the best.

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