Bicycling for Healthdate: July 25, 2012
If it has been years since you were whizzing around on your bike with the wind blowing through your hair, you may want to consider hitting the road again. Bicycling offers plenty of health benefits, and it’s never too late to recapture the joy of being on two wheels. Along the way, you’ll get a great workout that feels more like play than work.
Health Benefits of Bicycling
As an adult, you have more reasons than ever to hop on a bicycle. Cycling, like other aerobic exercises, can lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels, reduce stress and decrease your risk for heart disease, diabetes and even some types of cancer.
Biking also burns about 400 to 700 calories an hour when you ride at a moderate-to-fast pace, making it an efficient form of exercise if you’re trying to achieve or maintain a healthy weight.
Plus, biking is a great way to strengthen your connection with nature, giving you an opportunity to take in the beauty of your surroundings and enjoy the sense of peace that brings.
In addition to promoting a healthy body and mind, commuting to work on your bike or riding your bike to run nearby errands saves you money and puts less strain on the environment than driving your car, and, most importantly, relieves stress.
Most People Can Ride a Bike
Practically everyone can benefit from biking. Even if it’s been 30 or more years since you’ve been on a bicycle, the ability to ride comes back quickly. Because cycling is a low-impact activity, unlike running or walking, it’s a perfect option if you have joint problems or back pain.
How to Get Started
The right bike and a good fit can make the difference between an enjoyable outing and an uncomfortable experience. To find the bike that’s right for you, think about the type of riding you’ll do. Here are the basic models to choose from:
- Road bikes are lightweight with thin tires designed for speed and smooth surfaces. If you’re an indoor cycling enthusiast or a runner who’s looking for a workout that’s easier on your joints, consider this performance bike.
- Mountain bikes are heavier with wide tires and shock absorbers to help you glide over rocks and tree roots. If you are an adventure seeker and plan to ride off-road most of the time, a mountain bike can be fun.
- Hybrids combine the best of road and mountain bikes. They are lighter weight and have sleeker tires than mountain bikes, allowing you to go faster. And they’re sturdier than road bikes, with higher handlebars for a more comfortable, upright riding position. If you’re looking to bike for exercise on both roads and trails, a hybrid is a smart choice.
- Comfort bikes are similar to hybrids but designed for tooling around town. Cushy, long seats and high handlebars make for pleasant cycling, but comfort bikes are often heavier and have fewer gears, so climbing hills or going fast can be a challenge. A comfort bike might be right for you if your rides are likely to be short and leisurely.
Once you have an idea of the type of bike you want, shop around. If possible, rent the style that you’re considering and take it for a spin. At a minimum, do a test ride around the block before you buy one. Then have an expert do a bike fitting, where seat and handle bar positions can be fine-tuned. The wrong size frame or a seat that’s too high or low can give you unnecessary aches and pains while you’re riding.
Along with a bicycle, you will need a helmet. Other gear, like gloves or a pair of padded bike shorts, is optional, but can make for a more comfortable ride. If you’re wearing long pants, make sure that they are snug around your ankles to prevent them from getting caught in the chain.
Before you hit the road, here are some strategies to enhance your experience:
- Start Slow—There’s no need to sign up for a road race or attempt an intimidating mountain path your first time out. Instead, choose a safe and familiar route with little or no traffic to get familiar with your bike. Gradually increase the length of your rides over several months.
- Change Positions—Switch your hand position and stand up on the pedals to lift yourself out of the saddle every five to 10 minutes to prevent soreness.
- Pump Your Brakes—Try to use the rear brake more than the front brake when going downhill: Squeeze and release intermittently, instead of riding the brake, for a safer descent.
- Stick to Low Gears—High gears provide more resistance so you pedal slower. Riding in high gear too much or when climbing hills can strain your knees. Most of your ride should be in lower gears (light to moderate resistance), so your legs spin rapidly. Try to keep your revolutions per minute (RPMs), or cadence, above 70.
- Be Street Savvy The key to riding safely on the road with automobiles is to follow all of the same laws they do and to be predictable—avoid swerving out of your biking lane or stopping suddenly. You should also use the universal hand signals for stopping and turning: Find them at be-safe.org. A biker can be hard to see, so wear bright clothing. If you’d like to escape the hustle and bustle of urban roads, biking trails abound across the country—some are even in cities or near them. Go to trails.com to find one near you. No matter where you ride, don’t wear headphones and always be alert to your surroundings.