Treadmill versus Exercise Bike: Which is better to improve cardiovascular health and longevity?

Don’t most of us looking to improve our cardiovascular health and longevity find ourselves in a dilemma when choosing between a treadmill and an exercise bike? Let’s evaluate which achieves our health and longevity objectives better.

Regular cardio exercise is vital to mitigate the risk of lifestyle diseases such as cardiovascular disease (CVD). Each piece of equipment presents unique advantages, depending on your health, fitness goals and comfort.

Zone 2 Cardio Training

The treadmill and exercise bike help us train in Zone 2 cardio workouts. The importance of steady-state Zone 2 training at 60-70 per cent of one’s maximum heart rate (MHR) is well-documented in various studies. MHR is calculated using the simple formula of 220 – Age. So, for a 20-year-old, the MHR is 200 beats per minute (bpm), and Zone 2 training would target training in a heart rate range of 120 to 140 bpm.

According to a study published in the Journal of Physiology, training in Zone 2, often known as the “fat-burning zone”, can improve aerobic endurance, promote fat utilization and enhance overall cardiovascular health. These beneficial physiological adaptations improve metabolic efficiency and mitochondrial function for better health and longevity. Our body comprises around 3.7 trillion cells, each possessing 100s and 1000s of mitochondria that give energy to the cell it inhabits. Improving mitochondrial function means enhancing their efficiency in burning body fat to energise you, which is caused by an improvement in the use of oxygen we breathe from the air. The excellent news here is that improvement in mitochondrial function is strongly associated with reduced body fat, optimal blood sugar levels and a lower risk of developing hypercholesterolemia and hypertension. So regularly engaging in Zone 2 training for a minimum of 45 minutes a day, five times a week, is highly beneficial for the body.

How to know you are training in Zone 2 without a heart rate monitor?

Two commonly used methods to identify Zone 2 training are:

1. The talk test.

2. The Rating of Perceived Exertion (RPE).

The talk test involves maintaining a pace at which you can carry on a conversation without gasping for breath. Researchers from the University of New Hampshire found a strong correlation between the talk test and the traditional lactate threshold tests, suggesting it is a valid measure of exercise intensity.

On the other hand, RPE is a subjective measure of one’s exertion level during exercise. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists suggests that an RPE of 12-14 on a scale of 6-20 typically corresponds to the intensity of Zone 2 training.

These two methods offer a practical and accessible approach for you to engage in Zone 2 training without needing advanced technology or equipment to measure your training heart rate. Thus, incorporating Zone 2 training guided by the talk test and RPE can be an effective strategy to enhance health and longevity.

Cardio Exercise on the Treadmill

The treadmill primarily involves walking, jogging, or running exercises and is a staple in home and commercial gyms. It is widely recognised for its effectiveness in improving cardiovascular health. Treadmill workout promotes natural body movements, improving heart health, increasing metabolic rate and aiding weight loss. Studies indicate that treadmill exercise can enhance aerobic capacity and cardiorespiratory fitness.

Treadmill workouts can be tailored to engage in various cardiovascular training zones. When cardio activity is done in the range of 70-80 per cent of one’s maximum heart rate (MHR), it is called the ‘cardiovascular or aerobic zone’ or Zone 3 cardio workout. Zone 3 cardio workout is highly effective in enhancing the efficiency and capacity of the heart, lungs, and circulatory systems. Lastly, the ‘anaerobic or performance zone,’ about 80-90 per cent of MHR, also known as Zone 4 training, promotes enhanced athletic performance and cardiovascular strength.

However, the high-impact nature of treadmill exercises could lead to potential joint strain, especially in individuals with pre-existing conditions such as osteoporosis or older adults.

Cardio Exercise on an Exercise Bike

In contrast, exercise bikes, particularly recumbent bikes, offer a low-impact cardiovascular exercise option. They provide a safer, joint-friendly alternative for individuals with knee, hip, or lower back problems. Like treadmills, exercise bikes allow various training zones, balancing fat loss, improving aerobic capacity, and enhancing performance.

Stationary upright bike exercise effectively tones the lower body muscles and builds endurance, contributing to cardiovascular fitness, lower-body musculoskeletal health, and overall health. The American Heart Association endorses stationary upright biking for its potential to lower blood pressure, improve cholesterol levels, and reduce the risk of heart disease.

The low-impact nature of cycling makes it a suitable choice for longevity, as it minimises the risks of joint injuries, promoting sustained physical activity even in the later stages of life.

Both treadmills and exercise bikes improve cardiovascular fitness with differing emphasis on hips, knees and calf muscles. The Zone 2 ‘fat-burning zone’ enhances metabolism, aiding weight management and reducing strain on the heart. Zone 3, or ‘cardiovascular or aerobic zone’, is crucial for improving heart and lung efficiency, while Zone 4 or ‘anaerobic or performance zone’, focuses on building cardiovascular strength and performance.

With that said, there’s no definitive answer to whether treadmills or exercise bikes are superior in boosting cardiovascular health and longevity. The choice ultimately depends on health conditions, fitness, and personal preferences.

Remember, regular exercise and physical activity are crucial to promoting cardiovascular health and longevity, irrespective of the fitness equipment used. Both treadmills and exercise bikes can effectively achieve these goals if we correctly understand cardiovascular training zones and their benefits and train accordingly consistently.

To conclude the discussion, a consistent exercise routine, be it on a treadmill or an exercise bike, complemented by a balanced diet, can help reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, enhance aerobic capacity, and contribute to a healthy, longer life. Whether it’s the natural running motion on a treadmill or the low-impact cycling on an exercise bike, what matters most is the commitment to maintaining cardiovascular health and wellness and the consistency of workouts. Finally, it’s prudent to consult a qualified medical healthcare expert or a certified health coach before starting a workout programme.


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