As word spread about Sunday's article in Grist Magazine* offering scientific proof that bicycle commuting can be a more effective exercise than the typical health club workout, thousands of cyclists worldwide turned collectively to their significant others and exclaimed "see, I told you my cycling obsession wasn't unhealthy!"
The author of the post, bicycling enthusiast and journalist Jay Walljasper, began by saying "It’s always a pleasure when scientific studies confirm your own long-held opinions, especially when what you think flies in the face of all conventional wisdom." Finally, scientific proof!
But in a world where physical fitness is confused with bodybuilding and conflated with athletic conditioning, you have to wonder why so few researchers have ever attempted to set the record straight long before today. My personal theory is that they've all been silenced by the mighty fitness cabal...
Think about it for a minute. When have you ever seen a TV commercial for bicycles? When was the last time you stopped flipping channels and came across an infomercial that made you feel so guilty that you dialed a toll-free number and committed to take up cycling? Chances are, you can't recall ever making three easy payments of $39.99 or setting up an ACH for hundreds of dollars annually just to ride a bicycle.
Yet, 20 minutes a day of bicycling will do exactly as advertised. That is, if its benefits were actually ever advertised...
The reason cycling can be more effective than a gym workout is quite simple. If one can only afford time to exercise a single muscle, the most bang for the buck is the heart. No, you can't show off your heart like chiseled abs or bulging biceps. A lifetime of reduced risk for heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and cancer is more one of those internal beauty things.
The true beauty of bicycling is that its benefits are delivered automatically.
The simple act of mounting the saddle and turning the pedals begins the workout. Whether you spin furiously or leisurely, you are still elevating your heart rate, increasing the flow of oxygenated blood to every cell in your body, and strengthening your heart and lungs. Cycling delivers the full benefit of cardio exercise - almost by default.
Bike commuting is also multitasking of the highest order.
Sure it may take a little more time to ride to work or run errands by bike instead of by car, but commuting time has already been factored into your busy schedule. You don't have to squeeze something else out to make time to exercise when you commute by bike. You aren't tempted to skip your workout when your workout is your only ride to work.
So as you click over to the link I have provided that enumerates and summarizes the studies that correlate the health benefits of bicycling, remember one other advantage that cycling offers; getting outside.
I don't think researchers are able to quantify the mental health benefits of breathing outdoor air or feeling the warmth of the sun and the cool breeze blowing across one's skin. They can't correlate the drop in stress triggered by inhaling the ever-changing scents of nature while observing the natural world at "see" level. Scientists can't observe the effects of turning off the part of the brain that worries while switching on the part that processes speed and obstacle avoidance.
Bicycling offers stimulation that trumps any health club's most intense simulation. And elevating Adrenaline is good for a strong heart.
Spring is upon us. It's time to take that physical conditioning developed inside the gym and amplify its benefits outside. Use that cardio to propel you places you need to go. Let that strong core power you through woods, wetlands, and open fields. Relax your mind and put your muscles on autopilot.
It's as easy as riding a bike...
*Grist article also cross-posted at People for Bikes
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Keep riding and be safe!