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  • Northeast Wisconsin
  • September 2018
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Pedaling your way to better health

The moment we first learn to ride a bike without training wheels is the first moment of true freedom many of us feel. But it’s also an introduction to some of the lowest-hanging fruit of a healthy lifestyle.

With the advent of better winter gear and the growing popularity of fat tire biking, cycling is fast becoming a year-round activity even on the frozen winter trails of northeastern Wisconsin. Getting on the saddle is a fun, affordable way to improve your health.

Six Health Benefits of Bicycling

  1. It’s easy on your joints. Many runners have turned to cycling when the pounding of running has taken its toll on their knees, ankles and back. Cycling puts your weight on your pelvic bones, relieving pressure on your lower body joints while working them with a fluid, non-jarring motion.
  2. Cycling builds leg strength and muscle tone. Walk around the finish line of one of northeast Wisconsin’s many fall organized cycling events, and you can’t help but notice the bulging, defined calf muscles on many of the riders. Cycling engages the quads, hamstrings, hip flexors, glutes, shoulders and abs, giving you a total body workout without the muscle strains common to exercise alternatives.
  3. An hour on the bike does wonders for your cardiovascular health. A Danish study conducted over 14 years showed that regular riding helps protect your heart. Experts suggest aiming to ride at least three days a week for 45-60 minutes each time. At a pace of 50 to 75 percent of your max heart rate, you’ll burn about 300 calories an hour and make strides in the battle against stroke, heart attack, obesity and arthritis.
  4. Regular riding improves balance and coordination on and off the saddle. Remember how impossible it once was to stay up on your first bike without help? Maybe not, because it became second nature, but even when you don’t notice it, your body does. Each time you ride a bike your muscles are engaged in making dozens of tiny shifts and adjustments to keep you upright. That work pays off when you’re walking, using stairs, on a ladder, or dodging your toddler as you make dinner. Over the course of a lifetime, better balance prevents falls, bone fractures and sprains.
  5. Cycling works your brain and may help in the fight against Alzheimer’s disease. As you ride, your brain is processing everything around you — the car in the other lane, how to make that left turn across traffic, the dog lying in wait on a porch and the family coming down the sidewalk. A University of Illinois study suggests that this boost in brain activity can stave off the effects of Alzheimer’s.
  6. Cycling is freedom. It gets you outside and in touch with your surroundings and sense of adventure. This may be why cycling has been correlated with improved mental health. Decades of studies have shown that high levels of physical activity significantly reduces risk of clinical depression later in life.

Getting Started

Ready to ride, but not sure if you have time? Try easing in with a ride to the grocery store or coffee shop, instead of driving. Bike to work one day a week, or even once a month. Or instead of meeting a colleague for beers or burgers to talk business or to catch up with a friend, meet for a casual bike ride instead.

Flipping just a few parts of your routine can go a long way, and pretty soon it will become a habit. 

Myles Dannhausen Jr.

Myles Dannhausen Jr. is a writer and editor for the Peninsula Pulse and organizer of the Peninsula Century Fall Challenge and Spring Classic bike rides in Door County, Wisconsin. He rediscovered his love of cycling after undergoing reconstructive ankle surgery at age 25, when he hopped on the bike for rehab. 

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