The many benefits of bicycling

Written by Erica Martin, MD. Posted in Health and Beauty

Many of us remember the thrill of getting our first bicycle. Even more thrilling, our first bicycle ride! I certainly remember both of these events—my first bicycle was entirely pastel in color and had a jaunty flowered basket on the front. My first bicycle ride was a mix of pure terror (what if I fall?) and excitement (finally, a taste of freedom!).

From there, I spent endless hours riding my bicycle in the neighborhood from early morning into the twilight hours with my friends, all skinned knees and sunburned. But then semi-adulthood and then early adulthood came along, and I had all but forgotten the simple pleasure that comes with riding a bicycle.

Fast forward through years of medical school and post-graduate training, through the purchase of our first home near one of Toledo’s oldest and most beloved bicycle shops, and I found myself thinking that it might be nice to have a bicycle once again. Though the bicycle that I purchased does not have a floral motif, it does sport a very zippy color and is a joy to ride through the neighborhood and on the trails.

Happily, one of my dear (and very fit) neighbors has introduced me to the bike as not only a means of transportation for errands, but also as a means of fitness via the many trails we have in Toledo.

Certainly “fitness” is on the minds of many Toledoans, and given the current glut of information on this topic, sometimes people feel overwhelmed when trying to make lifestyle changes. But what if the road to fitness/health/improved wellbeing were as simple as strapping on your helmet and hopping onto your bicycle that’s currently gathering dust in the garage?

Bicycling is a great form of exercise for multiple reasons:

1. Biking increases endurance/energy levels. Biking also challenges your heart and lungs, which decreases your risk of heart attack and stroke!

2. Biking is a low-impact activity, which is especially beneficial for those who have issues with osteoarthritis (age-related degeneration of the joints). This means that it is easier on the joints than certain other activities, such as jogging or running. In fact, in a study examining patients with knee osteoarthritis, done in Ireland and published in 2010, 80% of those who started either walking or cycling reported improvements in their symptoms. Joints (even arthritic ones) “like” to move, as this helps to bring in new blood and nutrients to the joint, and bicycling is an excellent way to facilitate this process.

3. Biking is an accessible activity. As mentioned above, people in the Toledo metropolitan area have many options for bicycling given our fantastic system of Metroparks with hundreds of miles of trails that are safe and well kept.

According to the American Medical Society for Sports Medicine, all adults without medical conditions precluding them from exercise should aim for 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise (meaning that you could have a short conversation doing said exercise, but could not sing) weekly, and should be doing some sort of strength-building exercise such as weight lifting two to three times per week. Bicycling is an excellent way to get your exercise—always with a helmet of course!

Erica Martin, MD, is a family and sports medicine physician.