America is a car country. We drive everywhere and we pay the price - transportation alone accounts for 20% of an American family's budget, and a sedentary lifestyle doesn't just take a toll on our pockets, it take a toll on our health.
"Research has proven that swapping out driving in favor of biking can have wondrous results," says Stacie McCarthy, EP, MS, an exercise physiologist with the Care New England Wellness Center. "Regular cycling can help you lose weight, reduce stress, and improve fitness. We all need to think about giving our body, minds, and the Earth a boost."
McCarthy notes that the benefits of bicycling include helping you:
- Feel happier – apart from the increase in self-esteem and confidence that getting fitter and leaner will give you, simply spending more time outside will cheer you up, thanks to the sun's ability to increase vitamin D levels and boost levels of the feel-good hormone serotonin. In addition, an increase in exercise-induced endorphins will produce exhilaration and make work a breeze.
The other major benefit of being outside and getting more daylight is that you will sleep better and longer. Stanford University School of Medicine researchers asked sedentary insomnia suffers to cycle 20 to 30 minutes every other day. The result was that the amount of time it took insomniacs to fall asleep was reduced by half, and they slept an hour longer. Also, sunshine provides the body with plenty of vitamin D.
- Live longer – Research has found that those who exercise regularly are at a significantly lower risk for cardiovascular disease, Type 2 diabetes, obesity, and all types of cancer. According to the National Forum for Coronary Heart Disease Foundation in the United States, regular cyclists enjoy a fitness level equal to that of a person 10 to 15 years younger.
- Travel cheaper – Even though you might need additional accessories (a helmet, lights, lock and a bicycle tune up) commuting a few days a week will pay off quickly with all the gas money you'll save.
- Be green – Some say about one pound of carbon dioxide is saved for every mile we bike rather than drive. You'll never have to worry about what's best for the earth on your way to work when the only fuel you're burning is calories.
- Stay fit – Many people have good intentions for their exercise plan but are frustrated when they fall off track. One major benefit of biking to work is that it ensures you will always get your exercise in. Biking improves cardiovascular fitness and some experts say it can cut your risk of coronary disease by half.It also improves stamina, coordination, balance, muscle tone, burns calories, and doesn't stress your joints because it's low impact.
- Think Safe – McCarthy says that even though bicyclists have to pay attention to traffic and safety, the exercise still allows the mind to wander."I sometimes come up with some very creative ideas and solutions while biking," she says.
Put the brakes on excuses
McCarthy sees dozens of clients a week and has heard most, if not all, of the excuses people have for not riding their bike to work. As a result, she has come up with counters for every one of them.
1) It's too far to ride. If you live far from work, she suggests driving or taking the bus part of the way and riding the rest. A monthly bus pass plus a bike can take you anywhere.
2) It takes too long. You'd be surprised! Biking generally takes less time than driving for trips of 3 to 5 miles. Also, don't forget your savings of time, money (and the environmental benefit) when you eliminate trips to the gas pump.
3) I would have to get up much earlier. Thirty minutes of extra sleep won't be nearly as invigorating as an early morning ride and you won't have to rush off in rush hour traffic to an evening workout class because you'll have already accomplished it.
4) I have to dress nicely for work. Some bicycle commuters ride in their business attire or in comfortable clothes and change when they arrive. Carry your clothes in a pack or bring them to work on a non-commuting day. Encourage your employer to install showers.
5) I can't afford to buy a commuting bike. You don't need one. Your old bike will do just fine. If you don't have one you can purchase a used one.
6) I'd have to ride in the dark. You can wear light colored, reflective clothing, and use a good lighting system.
Before heading out, McCarthy suggests a safety check on the bicycle. Anyone riding a bike should wear a helmet and make sure the bike has reflectors, a bell or horn, and lights. To learn the rules of the road, go the RI Bike Coalition's website and click on safety.
Lastly, to secure the bike at work, get a U-shaped lock.
"Providence is striving to become a city where people want to live and work. For many having a green way to commute is vital. The city will be rolling out a master plan this June to make RI roads more bike-friendly. Stay posted," McCarthy says.
For more information, call Stacie McCarthy at the CNE Wellness Center at (401) 732-3066, or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org