Electric bikes (e-bikes) are comparable to conventional bicycles when it comes to promoting health and fitness in untrained and overweight individuals, according to a study by the University of Basel in Switzerland.
The research comes at a time when e-bikes are growing ever more popular, and questions concerning their health benefits are on the minds of consumers.
The study is published in the Clinical Journal of Sport Medicine.
What are e-bikes?
E-bikes are essentially motorized, more efficient versions of regular bicycles. Rather than pedaling manually, e-bikes have a built in “pedal assist” that makes movement easier and allows a user to sustain greater endurance.
For these reasons, e-bikes have been seen as desirable options for people who travel long distances, or carry heavy materials while biking.
However, the “assisting” nature of e-bikes has also been met with skepticism, leaving people to wonder if this form of transportation offers the same health benefits as manual biking.
To test this question, the researchers at the University of Basel decided to run an experiment.
The researchers recruited 32 volunteers who were considered untrained and overweight individuals, with a body mass index of 28-29.
At the beginning of the study, the researchers measured each participant’s oxygen uptake capacity (VO2) as a way to evaluate cardiorespiratory fitness. VO2 measures the body’s ability to uptake and utilize oxygen.
The participants were then broken up into two groups; 17 participants were randomly assigned to an e-bike group, while 15 participants were assigned to a bike group.
The participants were instructed to use the bicycle allocated to them for an active commute to work in Basel at a self-chosen speed for at least three days a week during a month-long intervention period. Some of the participants wore a heart monitor and a GPS device.
The starting point for the study was the Bike to Work campaign, an initiative that’s been running in Switzerland for 10 years, which invites commuters to use their bicycles or e-bikes every year for a month.
After a month, the participants had their VO2 measured again, and the researchers found that both groups had developed comparably well in their fitness.
Arno Schmidt-Trucksäss, a professor of sports medicine at the University of Basel, explained that the results were quite surprising.
“We thought e-bikers might bike at a lower intensity, which was not the case,” he said.
Instead, the researchers found that the e-bike group on average traveled at higher speeds and showed higher daily elevation gain.
“This indicates that the e-bike can increase motivation and help overweight and older individuals to maintain fitness training on a regular basis,” Schmidt-Trucksäss said in a statement.
“Those who use e-bikes on a regular basis benefit permanently, not only in terms of their fitness, but also in terms of other factors such as blood pressure, fat metabolism, and their mental well-being.”
As a whole, the researchers found that e-bikes can be a beneficial way for overweight or older adults to lower the risk of disease and lose weight.
“Riding an e-bike can increase motivation and help overweight and older individuals to maintain fitness training on a regular basis,” said Schmidt-Trucksäss.
“This may also help to improve other health related factors such as blood pressure, fat metabolism, and their mental well-being.”
Provided they receive funding, the researchers hope to continue investigating the health benefits of e-bikes, which is critical as e-bikes become more common around the world.
“Due to the increasing use of the e-bike, it could evolve comparable to the traditional bicycle into an instrument for the broad promotion of healthy lifestyle in the public health sector,” said Schmidt-Trucksäss.
Natalie Colarossi is a journalism major and global studies minor working toward her bachelor’s degree at Ohio University. She is from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. She has covered a number of topics including art, culture, politics, music, and travel. Her greatest passion and priority is to travel, and she hopes to experience as many places and cultures as possible.