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Try a year of cycling for better physical, mental health

img_20190116_134318904New Year’s resolutions are often hard to make into a habit. If exercising more is one of them, January weather can make it more of an indoor effort. If riding your bike more is one of your ways to get fit, cold, snow, and ice can be a challenge. Consider a year of cycling to improve your physical and mental health.

Outside Magazine started the year with an article encouraging more people to take up biking.

Theoretically, getting more people to ride should be easy. Never in the history of cycling has there been a wider range of bicycles and riding styles on offer to the American consumer. However, there’s still a pretty significant barrier of entry to cycling here in America, and it’s called the prospect of death.

But how dangerous is cycling really? Unfortunately it’s difficult to say with numerical certainty, because the annual number of bicycle deaths doesn’t tell the entire story. We do know that somewhere around 800 people per year are killed in cycling crashes, but what we don’t have is the necessary data to calculate cyclist mortality per miles traveled.

The article highlights the importance of avoiding cars, using sensible bike gear, and slowing down (for the road racing types).

I bike commute. I select and plan my routes carefully and know them well. It is important to me that I avoid what I would consider dangerous streets and stick to more pleasant neighborhood streets or roads with lower traffic volumes and speeds. I wear bright gear and usually have lights with me, especially in the winter months because it is important to be seen by motorists.

My bike commute is my main exercise. I measure every trip on a GPS app to track myself, which makes it a little more fun. I biked nearly 4,600 miles and burned more than 176,000 calories. More than 2,900 of those miles and 116,000 of the calories were on my work commutes. It is a vital part of my day to bike to work. I rotate among three bikes and take different routes to keep it interesting. It takes planning and more attention to the weather and my daily schedule, but I’ve been able to make it work to my advantage.

Commuting by bike to work and for errands does improve physical and mental health. A recent study focusing on the health aspects of biking for transportation was highlighted on REI’s blog:

Is there something about riding your bike that makes you feel better? Well, it turns out science may validate your experience. An article recently published in Environmental International suggests that those who use a bicycle as a form of transportation may maintain higher levels of self-perceived health than drivers, walkers and public transportation users and also experience lower levels of stress.

The study found that overall biking gave cyclists more energy and less stress than people who didn’t bike (seem obvious, but good to confirm). It also found that those cyclists had better engagement and involvement with their communities. “[B]iking forces us to slow down and interact with our surroundings in a different way—something that can be relaxing, exciting and generally more fulfilling,” according to the article. I certainly find that I am much more loyal and attentive to the places along the most common routes I bike. I make errands and some work trips out to be opportunities to exercise, which not only keeps me fit but prevents me from burning fuel with my vehicle while also saving a little money. That’s a win-win.

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