Biking and running are aerobic exercises that can greatly benefit a person’s health and fitness.
In this article, we compare biking and running for their capacity to burn calories, health benefits, injury risk, and cost.
The number of calories that cycling and running burn depends on several factors, such as speed, terrain, weight, and the person’s metabolism.
People who weigh more will burn more calories during either exercise, while those who weigh less will burn fewer calories.
The following table shows the approximate number of calories a male weighing 154 pounds (70 kilograms) would burn during cycling and running. Speeds are in miles per hour (mph) and kilometers per hour (km/h).
The table below provides an estimate of calories burned during 1 hour of activity for people of different weights. Weight is in pounds (lb) and kilograms (kg).
If a person wants to find out the number of calories they will burn for their specific weight for various activities, they can use a calorie calculator, such as this one.
Additionally, some people may be able to cycle for longer than they can run, which will also affect the number of calories they burn overall.
Cycling uses all the major muscle groups. It uses and builds up the leg muscles in particular, including:
- quadriceps (rectus femoris, vastus lateralis, vastus medialis, and vastus intermedius)
- hamstrings (biceps femoris, semitendinosus, and semimembranosus)
Some of the key muscles involved in running include:
Running and cycling both bring heart health benefits.
Regular cycling reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease and helps:
- improve lung health
- stimulate circulation
- strengthen heart muscles
- lower resting pulse rate
- reduce levels of fat in the blood
A large-scale study on 263,450 participants found that cycling to work reduced the risk of cardiovascular disease, cancer, and all-cause mortality. The study also found that walking to work lowered the risk of cardiovascular disease.
Another study found that cycling was beneficial for people recovering from stroke and helped improve heart rate recovery after exercise.
Running also helps improve cardiovascular health. A 2019 review found that running reduced the risk of cardiovascular, cancer, and all-cause mortality.
The research suggests any amount of running is more beneficial than no running, and higher doses of running may not significantly improve mortality benefits.
Even small doses of running, such as 5–10 minutes per day at speeds of less than 6 mph (9.7 km/h), can substantially reduce the risk of cardiovascular and all-cause mortality.
A 2018 study from the journal Circulation looked at the effects of long-distance endurance running on heart health. The study suggests that running a full marathon creates more strain on the heart than shorter distances, such as a half-marathon or 10K run.
A full marathon is 26 miles (about 42 km), a half-marathon is 13 miles (about 21 km), and a 10K is 6.2 miles (10 km).
Scientists need to do further research to investigate the long-term effects of long-distance running on the heart.
Running may be better for long-term bone health than cycling. This is because running causes a higher impact on bone than cycling.
Research suggests this higher impact activity may cause bone tissue to signal the pancreas to help meet its metabolic needs over the long term.
Cycling is an exercise with lower impact than running and does not exert too much force on the joints.
Cycling may help reduce symptoms of arthritis, lubricate the joints, and reduce pain and stiffness.
According to a 2011 review, cycling may not support bone health as much as running or other weight-bearing exercise.
The research also suggests that cyclists may be at risk of low bone mass, particularly in the lower spine. Low bone mass can increase the risk of fractures.
The review concludes that cycling does not pose any more damage to bone health than a sedentary lifestyle. Researchers have yet to find a link between the amount of cycling and optimal bone health.
Ultra-endurance cycling may not benefit bone health either. In ultra-endurance cyclists, bones may release calcium into the bloodstream, which weakens them.
A knee injury is the most common injury in running. Other common running injuries can affect:
- legs, including the thigh and Achilles tendon
Another injury linked to running is shin splints, which is an inflammation around the shinbone.
People may experience pain along the inside edge of the shinbone. Resting, applying ice, and stretching may help relieve the pain.
If people have shin splints, they should be free from pain for 2 weeks before returning to exercise, according to experts.
One study compared inflammation between runners and cyclists. After 3 days of intense training, the runners had greater muscle damage, soreness, and inflammation compared with the cyclists.
Some of the most common cycling injuries or pain include:
- knee pain
- head injury
- neck pain
- back pain
- wrist or forearm pain or numbness
- genital or rectal pain or numbness
- foot numbness or tingling
If people have preexisting injuries, particularly in these areas of the body, they may need to consult their doctor to see whether it is safe for them to exercise.
Additionally, they may need to take extra precautions when resuming exercise.
To start running, people do not need any equipment other than a pair of running shoes, which can make it a cheaper option than cycling.
For long-term running, people may want to invest in breathable running clothes. They may also want to use reflective gear if they run in the dark.
Those new to cycling may want to consider borrowing or renting a bike first to try it out before making an investment. There are also plenty of options online to buy a good quality secondhand bike.
People will also need to buy a helmet, lights, and reflective gear for cycling if they plan to cycle on roads or in the dark.
People may also need padded cycling gloves and padded shorts or seat to relieve pressure on the hands, wrists, and genital area.
Both cycling and running can benefit a person’s health and fitness, particularly cardiovascular health.
If people are new to either, they can start slowly and gradually build up endurance and strength to keep exercise enjoyable and sustainable.
Both cycling and running can be a great option to keep fit and healthy.
People can choose the activity that best suits their health needs and lifestyle, or they can combine both to keep a varied exercise routine.