Introduction: Surprising Health Benefits of an Electric Bike
The New York Times’ article, The Surprising Health Benefits of an Electric Bike, published on July 6th 2016, highlighted the health benefits of electric bicycles and sourced the study conducted by the University of Colorado, Boulder (European Journal of Applied Physiology, May 2016). Below is an executive summary of the study that outlines the purpose, methodology and conclusions. The study defines electric bikes/pedelecs vehicles that provide electric assistance only when a rider is pedaling.
Purpose: Quantify the Health Benefits of Riding an Electric Bike
The purpose of the study was to quantify whether electric bikes — even with the added assistance of a motor — would provide a meaningful workout by improving cardiometabolic risk factors for people who previously had not been doing much exercising. They also wanted to see whether electric bikes were fundamentally safe, given that they enable even novice riders to achieve speeds of 20 miles per hour or higher.
Methodology: 20 Volunteers Were Monitored for Four Weeks
The researchers first brought their 20 sedentary volunteers into the lab to assess their body composition, aerobic fitness, blood sugar control, blood pressure and cholesterol profiles. The following four weeks, volunteers were provided with an electric bicycle, heart rate monitor, and GPS device. They were instructed on the use of all of this equipment and were asked to wear monitors and ride the new bike to and from work at least three times a week for the next month, spending at least 40 minutes in the saddle on those days. The volunteers were directed to choose whatever speed and effort felt comfortable for them.
Results: Improved Health, Better Blood Sugar Control, Lower Body Fat
A month later, the volunteers returned to the lab to repeat the original tests and turn over heart rate and GPS data. All of them had ridden at least the prescribed minimum of 40 minutes three times per week and according to their monitor data, most had ridden more than required, several about 50 percent more.
- The riders also had ridden with some intensity. Their heart rates averaged about 75 percent of each person’s maximum, meaning that even with the motor assist, they were getting a moderate workout, comparable to brisk walking or an easy jog.
- The riders were healthier and more fit now, with significantly greater aerobic fitness, better blood sugar control, and, as a group, a trend toward less body fat.
- The volunteers reported that the riding was “a blast and its was exercise that was fun”, therefore they were riding longer and further distances.
Conclusions: Improved Fitness, Improved Cardiometabolic Health
Participants rode an electric bike in the real world at a self-selected moderate intensity, which helped them meet physical activity recommendations. Electric bike commuting also resulted in significant improvements in aerobic fitness, better blood sugar control, and in balancing cholesterol levels. Electric bikes are an effective form of active transportation that can improve some cardiometabolic risk factors within as few as four weeks.
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