Friday, May 17, 2013

Bike to Work, Bike to School!

May is national bike month – the perfect time to try out, or bring back, this healthier alternative to going to work, going to the store, going to school, or going anywhere.

Many communities also celebrate Bike to Work Week (May 13-17) or Bike to Work Day (varies, but Friday, May 17, in most towns) with special events to encourage would-be bike riders.

Businessmen riding bikes to work

Health benefits of bicycling

There are global benefits to biking, such as decreased air pollution emissions and decreased greenhouse gas emissions.  As well, the increased levels of physical activity improve your cardiovascular fitness, which decreases your risk of coronary heart disease.  And biking tones and builds muscles with low impact on joints compared to many other forms of exercise.

Biking also burns calories, which can improve your waistline, especially if you push it. A study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine states that women biking just five minutes a day gained roughly 1.5 fewer pounds during their study than did women who didn't take up biking.  And those who upped their daily biking to 30 minutes kept even more weight off.  Bicycling with consistent heart rate elevation, it seems, is an effective solution to weight control, the study concludes. 

Businessman riding bike to workNeed more motivation?  Another study concluded that bicycling increases longevity, while other research indicates that riding a bike can improve mental health. Even your immune system benefits from two-wheeling it, according to this study.

So then, what are you waiting for, and why just bike this month?  Perhaps you’re dissuaded by a naysayer?  After all, there are some – those who prefer the four-wheeled motorized convenience of driving to work – who are quick to point out the safety and exposure to air pollution risks of biking, perhaps even claiming that the risks outweigh the advantages.  Truth is, they are wrong, according to a bicycling safety study reported in 2010 in the US National Library of Medicine of the National Institute of Health.  The study concluded that the estimated health benefits of cycling were substantially larger than the risks relative to car driving for individuals shifting their mode of transport.  Get the full scoop on this detailed bike safety study here.

Get your kids into biking

National bike month is also a good time to get your kids turned on to cycling.  Obviously, the best way to encourage children to bike is by example.  The League of American Bicyclists recommends that, as soon as your child is able hold their head up and fit a helmet, they are ready to be a passenger on your bike (before age five, use a bicycle child seat or bicycle trailer).  When they see you bicycling regularly at this young age, you will be setting patterns of exercise that feel natural to them.

Once your child develops basic motor skills, they can operate a bike, initially with training wheels.  Explain to your kids how traffic works, about yielding the right of way, passing pedestrians and parked cars, predicting what others might do, and traffic laws. Consider letting them pick out their helmet – and mandate that they wear it!  This is another area where you can teach by example, wearing yours also.  Let your children practice balancing in vacant parking lot where they can safely make mistakes as they practice riding in circles, in a straight line, and braking.

Child with helmet on bike

For guided help on teaching your child to bike well, look for cycling clinics for kids in your area.  Also, more than 1,300 Wal-Mart stores are hosting bike rodeos during the Bike month.  Check your local Wal-mart for details.

Find out more about Bike Month or Biking events in your neighborhood

Ready to get rolling on two wheels? 

Finally, if you want to have a little fun at home or work during National Bike Month, consider blasting on the stereo a bit of the English rock band Queen’s classic from 1978 I Want to Ride My Bicycle, available by download from many online music stores, if not already in your music collection.   Doing so may not burn as many calories as actually getting on your bike and riding, but it’s a fun way to spread the biking notion.

Ric Moxley
Contributing Writer

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