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Wouldn’t it be nice if your daily commute boosted your mood and your health? It can, if you ride a bike.

In fact, an April 2017 study published in the British Medical Journal found that a daily bike commute can cut your risk of heart disease by 46 percent and your chance of dying from heart trouble by 52 percent.

Once you’ve built up your stamina, cycle hard, every day, pushing yourself into the sweat zone.

Cycling has long been known to be one of the best activities you can do in a gym. It won’t hurt your knees and is kind to your back, and you can work up your heart rate if you push.

When you cycle outdoors, you get the added mood-boosting benefits of sunlight. If you have access to a bike path, you may also get a taste of greenery or a water view. I recommend listening to music (or just turning off your cell-phone) and using the commute as a time when you can free your mind from the noise of information, an oasis at the beginning and end of the day. If you bike instead of driving, you’ll cut your gas bill and the exhaust your car emits into the air, while easing traffic.

Imagine arriving at the office flush with an exercise buzz. You’ll be the beaming high-energy person who doesn’t even need coffee, far less a Danish.

What About Bad Weather?

Do I hear groans? Yes, it rains and it snows. Use thicker tires on winter roads and keep a rain poncho in a bike bag. You might have to ride in city traffic or alongside a busy road. Be sure to wear a helmet in case you fall. You might live in an area with overcast polluted days. It’s still healthy to exercise outdoors (See “Air Pollution: Do the Benefits of Exercise Outweigh the Risks of Exercising Outdoors?”)

The key will be to build an enjoyable habit. Here are two strategies you can try.

Go For It

Once you’ve built up your stamina, cycle hard, every day, pushing yourself into the sweat zone. Wear a sports watch or monitor on your chest so you can track your progress.

You can shower at the office, or at a gym. Keep work clothes at the office. You might be able to dress down on some days and bring less elaborate clothing in a backpack, or bike bag, rolled up rather than folded.

Don’t let bad weather be an excuse—prepare with the right clothing and equipment. On a cold day, you’ll be warm if you wear wick-proofing layers and push up your heart rate. To safely bike at night or early morning, equip your bike with flashing lights. You’ll need one in the back and one up front to help you see.

Balance out your exercise program with strength-training exercises at home or in a gym.

Make it Easy

You might aim to commute on your bike one or two days a week. If the distance is far, consider driving to a parking spot and biking the last bit. Maybe you don’t want to bother with showering and changing clothes. You can do an easy ride even in a dress (wear bike shorts with a padded crotch underneath). You’ll also need to build aerobic exercise into your life, alongside strength-training. In busy periods, when you need to choose between biking to work or the gym, try alternating between each activity.

Over time, it’s likely you’ll fall in love with your bike. You may find yourself biking on the weekends to do chores. Join or start a cycling club and organize adventures for the weekends.

Whether you go easy or hard, you’ll need to do a little planning. Pay attention to the weather and calculate your speed, so you arrive on time. Don’t let your family or colleagues blame your bike if you become unpunctual. It’s up to you to make it work.

Pick the safest possible route—you obviously don’t want to cross a big highway. You’ll need a good lock and a place to store your bike. You may be lucky enough to live in one of the 70 or so U.S. cities with bike-share programs, where you can ride a bike for a small fee and drop it off. It’s convenient and you won’t have to worry about bike maintenance. Just be sure to bring a helmet: New York City is now full of riders zipping between lanes on Citi-bikes, helmet-less. That’s just nuts.

You’ll still probably want a bike for weekends, especially because this is a good time for longer, more intense “training” types of rides. Maintenance isn’t hard, but it’s necessary. Take your bike to a shop for a tune-up at least once a year. Brakes get loose. At the shop, you can make sure your bike is well-equipped. You need a bottle-holder. Keep it full with fresh water. Get a bike rack and bike bag as well as the appropriate lights. Keep a small tire pump in your bike bag or a sturdier one at home or the office. Ask about courses on how to repair a flat or line up a chain that gets off the gear.

Once you’re geared up and gathered some experience in different weather and schedules, your bike ride will come to be one of the more reliably rewarding parts of the day. Regular bikers don’t mind the rain. They arrive feeling too good to care if they’re a little wet.

What’s your favorite thing about riding your bike to work?

 

Contributed by

Phil Hardesty
Exercise Physiologist

Have a healthy, happy and fit week!!

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