Health Benefits of Biking to Work

Bike commute to work

Getty Images / Westend61

There are many physical, mental, environmental, and financial benefits of biking to work. A bike commute “improves mental well-being by combining physical exercise with being outdoors and exploring new views,” says Jessica Mazzucco, a New York City-based certified fitness trainer.

But for those who are new to cycling, it can also be daunting. Here’s what to know about the benefits of a bike commute and how to get started.

Benefits of Biking to Work

While the benefits of biking to work can differ from person to person, new bike commuters may experience improved mental health, increased heart health, weight loss, improved joint function, financial savings, and positive environmental awareness.

Improved Mental Health

Regular exercise can cut your risk of depression and anxiety while also helping you sleep better, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Especially given how cooped up we’ve all been for the past year, it’s definitely got the mental health benefits of being out in the open air,” says Erich G. Anderer, MD, the chief of neurosurgery at NYU Langone Hospital in Brooklyn, New York.

It’s Good for Your Heart

Biking is an aerobic activity that’s “good for cardiovascular health,” Anderer says. Research suggests that regular aerobic exercise, including biking, decreases the risk of developing severe heart disease and vascular disease. It also improves overall cardiac function, so your heart works more efficiently. Plus, it can cut blood pressure and prevent atherosclerosis.

May Promote Weight Management and Increase Strength

Depending on how long your commute is and what your diet looks like, biking to work could help you manage your weight. You don't even have to speed your way to the office for weight loss to occur—intensity is far more important than speed because higher-intensity workouts lead to more calories burned. Riding also helps build muscle around the hamstrings, glutes, calves, and quads, making your commute a sustainable, effective workout.

It’s Good for the Joints

Biking is a low-impact activity, which means it’s less likely to result in an overuse injury than some other forms of exercise, such as jump roping or CrossFit. “If you're just getting back into exercise after being off for quite some time, it's a good entry because it's low impact,” Anderer says.

You’ll Save Money

If you’re biking to work, you won’t have to fill up your gas tank as often, which means more money in your pocket. Plus, as The League of American Bicyclists points out, you’ll save on maintenance costs for your vehicle, and on parking. The group also says that some bike commuters often don't have to pay for gym memberships, since biking to work offers a terrific workout.

You’ll Help the Environment

Traffic congestion contributes to climate change, as well as air and noise pollution. Biking helps decrease your carbon footprint, Anderer says. “A lot of cities are trying to convert people away from driving, so if we can encourage more people to bike and get more cars off the road in general, I think that would be a good thing.” One recent study found that choosing a bike over a car once a day cut the average person’s carbon emissions from transport by 67%.

Safety During Bike Commutes

All exercise has inherent risks, Anderer says, biking included. As a neurosurgeon at a trauma hospital, he sees the worst of biking incidents, such as head and spine injuries. According to the National Safety Council, the number of deaths from bike incidents jumped 6% in 2019 and 37% in the last 10 years, from 793 in 2010 to 1,089 in 2019.

Still, it’s possible to have a safe bike commute. Here are some tips:

Wear a Helmet

This is vital, Anderer says—and your helmet needs to fit properly. According to The League of American Bicyclists, you should be able to fit just two fingers in between your eyebrows and helmet, and there should be little movement when you toss your head from side to side.

Select a Bike That’s Properly Sized For You

It’s important to make sure your bike fits you, and that it isn’t, say, too big, which would put you at risk of falling. In New York, where Anderer lives, there’s a Citi Bike program that allows people to rent bikes for their commute to work, school, or wherever else they’re going. It’s great, he says, except that Citi Bikes come in one size, which means they won't necessarily be an appropriate fit for you.

Obey Traffic Signals

Cyclists must obey stop signs, red lights, and lane markings. Always look and signal before you change lanes. Never ride against the flow of traffic, and aim to be predictable. Anderer adds that it’s important to be aware of your surroundings, keeping a close eye on who or what is near you at all times.

What You Need for a Successful Bike Commute

Before you start your bike commute, pick up gear that will help optimize the experience. Here are some useful items:

A Horn or a Bell

Use this to let pedestrians and bikers know when you’re passing them. You can also vocally confirm this by loudly telling others “on your left” so that the individual you’re passing knows you’re approaching.

A Lock

If you plan to leave your bike unattended, you’ll need a good lock. The League of American Bicyclists suggests using “a cable lock to loop through your seat and a U-lock to link the bike frame and front wheel to the bike rack.” A chain lock, while efficient, is heavy to carry.

Lights

In many places, it’s mandatory to use headlights at night: a white one in the front, with a rear reflector in the back. It can also be helpful to install a red light on the rear of your bike to increase your visibility.

Neon Clothes

The National Safety Council recommends bike commuters wear neon or fluorescent clothing; if you have to ride at night, wear reflective clothing.

Tips For Starting a Bike Commute

Like any new endeavor, sometimes the most difficult part of a bike commute is starting. While this may be a new part of your routine, thoughtful preparation is helpful in making the beginning stages comfortable and safe.

Make Sure You Have a Way to Freshen Up at Work

This might mean keeping a duffel bag near your workspace with basic toiletries, Collins says; some companies offer showers for this exact purpose. (Otherwise, body wipes can do the trick.) Additionally, commuting in waterproof, breathable fabrics, and keeping a spare set of clothes at the office can assist in staying fresh for the workday ahead.

Plan Your Route Carefully

Use Google maps or an app like Strava or MapMyRide to plan out the best route to get to work. Collins says it’s important to be thoughtful about the route you select. “Stay off roads with poor shoulders or complex intersections,” he says. “Try to maximize the use of trails, quiet streets, and roads with wide shoulders.”

Practice Your Route on a Day off From Work


This will help you get used to the ride without the pressure of arriving somewhere on time, Mazzucco notes. It will ensure you know where you’re going, and it gives you the chance to time how long it takes to reach your destination. Then you’ll be able to plan what time you need to leave home each day. (Mazzucco recommends building extra time into your schedule to account for bad weather or road delays.)

Start Small and Ride to Work Once or Twice a Week

After a few weeks, when you have a good feel for your commute, add another day or two into your routine, Mazzucco suggests. Soon, you may be able to bike commute regularly. “This way, you develop the endurance and strength to bike to work every day and don’t burn yourself out all at once,” she says.

Was this page helpful?
6 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Benefits of physical activity. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Updated April 2021.

  2. Nystoriak MA, Bhatnagar A. Cardiovascular effects and benefits of exerciseFront Cardiovasc Med. 2018;5. doi:10.3389/fcvm.2018.00135.

  3. Why Commute by Bike. The League of American Bicyclists.

  4. The climate change mitigation impacts of active travel: Evidence from a longitudinal panel study in seven European cities. Global Environmental Change. 2021;67:102224. doi:10.1016/j.gloenvcha.2021.102224.

  5. National Safety Council. Bicycle Deaths. Injury Facts. Updated April 2021.

  6. Bike Helmets. The League of American Bicyclists.