Cycling on an electric bike just a few times each week can improve an adult’s cardiorespiratory performance and general health in ways similar to riding a conventional bicycle or taking vigorous walks, according to several clinical studies.
One of the most telling studies, released in the May 2018 edition of the Clinical Journal of Sports Medicine, compared the peak oxygen uptake (VO2 max) of 32, overweight adults before and after four weeks of bicycle commuting.
Swiss Study Shows Electic Bikes Improve VO2 Max
The study, “Effect of E-Bike Versus Bike Commuting on Cardiorespiratory Fitness in Overweight Adults,” took its participants from local government offices in and around Basel-Stadt and Basel-Landschaft, Switzerland during the summer of 2016.
For more than a decade, the Swiss government has been trying to encourage citizens to ride a conventional bicycle or electric bike to work rather than driving or taking public transportation. As part of this program, the nation holds a four-week “Bike to Work” promotion during the warm summer months. This promotion served as the intervention period for the Swiss study.
Each of the subjects was relatively overweight with a body mass index (BMI) of 25 to 35. (A BMI of 18.5 to 25 is considered normal, according to the American Heart Association.) Each participant was an adult aged 18-to-50, and each was willing to cycle to work at least three times each week during the intervention period. The subject’s commute had to be at least 3.7 miles (6 kilometers) each way. Other than cycling, the participants kept their normal eating habits and normal levels of physical activity.
To determine how cycling impacted each of the subjects, the Swiss researches measured VO2 max before and after the four-week intervention. VO2 max measures the peak amount of oxygen a person can use during intense exercise. It is considered a good measurement of aerobic endurance and cardiovascular fitness. Thus, any improvement in VO2 max would indicate that bicycling imply heart and lung health.
At the beginning of the study, all 32 participants had normal VO2 max scores and normal resting blood pressure levels. By the end of the intervention period, those participants riding electric bikes had improved their VO2 max by 3.6 mL/(kg·min) from a mean of 35.7 mL/(kg·min) before the trial to a mean of 39.3 mL/(kg·min) at the end of the four-week period. Conventional bike riders enjoyed a 2.2 mL/(kg·min) gain from a mean of 36.4 mL/(kg·min) at the beginning of the study to a mean of 38.6 mL/(kg·min) at the study’s conclusion.
The study subjects also enjoyed improvements in resting heart rate and resting blood pressure after just four-weeks of cycling to work.
Bottom line, electric bikes “may have the potential to improve cardiorespiratory fitness similar to conventional bicycles despite the available power assist, as they enable higher biking speeds and greater elevation gain,” wrote the Swiss study’s authors.
Electric Bikes Overcome the Barriers to Exercise
This Swiss study’s findings are generally consistent with other clinical research. An analysis of electric-bike-related clinical studies, “Health benefits of electrically-assisted cycling: a systematic review,” published in the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity in 2018 reported that eight of eleven studies examined showed improvements in oxygen uptake as a result of riding an electric bike.
“Riding an e-bike led to a relative mean oxygen uptake of 14.7 to 29 ml/min/kg or 51 to 74 percent of maximum oxygen uptake,” the analysis said.
What’s more, many adults may find it easier to start exercising with an electric bike than to get started walking, running, or riding a conventional bicycle. Electric bikes may help adults become and stay more active.
“Electric bikes offer riders a high degree of control over the level of physical exertion required to ride, making them particularly helpful for anybody who would like to become more fit, but who may need to gradually and carefully ease into increased physical activity,” according to chapter three of “The Complete Electric Bike Buyer’s Guide.”
“Electric bikes, therefore, may provide an especially helpful way to exercise for those who fall into the following categories: recovering from an injury or illness, looking for a low-impact workout, elderly cyclists, people who are new to working out, [or individuals] returning to physical activity after a prolonged period of inactivity,” the guide concluded.