Bike Your Way to Better Health
Talk about the cycle of life: You could save money and cut pollution while getting a workout.
Biking has long been popular for recreation, but the surge in gas prices over the years has fueled spikes in commuter cycling around the country. Since 2000, there’s been a 60 percent increase nationwide in the number of people who travel to work by bike.
Cycling to jobs and errands isn’t just cheaper, it’s “greener.” According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, leaving your car at home and biking to work just two days a week helps reduce air pollution.
While you’re saving money and the planet, you’re also getting a good workout. For example, a 5-foot-10-inch tall man who weighs 154 pounds and bikes at a moderate pace for one hour can burn 290 calories. And, like other exercise, biking may cut your risk for heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and some cancers.
If you’d like to go along for the ride, start by finding a bike that’s the right size for you. Here’s what to look for:
Make sure your feet rest flat on the ground when you straddle the crossbar of a regular bike. There should be 1 to 3 inches between your body and the frame.
The seat should be level when you’re checking for fit. Afterward, adjust the angle based on your personal preference. Generally, the seat is tilted slightly up for males and slightly down for females.
When you’re seated with your foot on the pedal in its lowest position, your knee should be slightly bent. Adjust the seat height until you reach this position.
There are lots of different handlebar sizes and shapes. Comfort is most important—adjust the height and width to avoid seat and back pain.
While bike shopping, consider the added comfort or safety from accessories such as a padded seat, reflectors, a bell or horn, and a rearview mirror. Accessories to avoid: headphones and cellphones.
After the bike itself, your second most important piece of equipment is your helmet. Wearing a helmet while biking reduces your risk for serious head and brain injury by 85 percent.
Always wear a helmet, no matter how short your trip. Don’t buy a helmet unless it has the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) sticker inside, and make sure your helmet fits. See Tips for a Good Helmet Fit below.
Other helpful protective gear includes:
Bright, fluorescent-colored, or reflective clothing
Padded gloves and shorts
Shoes that grip the pedals—never wear flip-flops
Close-fitting pants that won’t get caught in the chain
Front and rear lights if you choose to ride after dark
Before you start your ride, check the brakes, chain, and tires. Also make sure the seat, handlebars, and wheels are straight and secure and the handlebars turn easily.
Once your bike is ready, check that your body is in tune, too. Cycling can be vigorous exercise—make sure you are fit enough to participate before you start pedaling.
On the Road
Now you’re ready to roll. If you’re new to biking, start slowly, with 15- to 30-minute rides. Then gradually increase your riding time each week.
Cycling at a moderate pace will keep you fit in five 30-minute sessions a week. To burn as many calories and gain similar health benefits in just three 25-minute stints, set a vigorous pace (more than 10 mph).
A bicycle is a vehicle, so ride it as such on roadways. You must follow the same road rules as motorists. Key rules include:
· Ride on the right side of the road with the traffic flow, not against it.
· Avoid highways and busy streets.
· Ride single file when cycling with others.
· Learn and use the proper hand signals.
With the right precautions, many biking accidents can be prevented. Still, injuries aren’t uncommon—especially if you overdo it. Watch out for fractures, muscle strains, and sprains.
You can treat minor problems with RICE—rest, ice, compresses, and elevation—but see a doctor if problems persist.