Hop on a Bike and Go Lean and Green
by Debra Melani
Trading in the car keys for more two-wheeled time could curb many of society’s woes, from spiraling healthcare costs to deepening carbon footprints. Yet, the main reason many bicyclists love going for a spin is that it yields a greater sense of well-being and contributes to a healthier, more rewarding life.
“I know it sounds crazy to say that bicycling is a silver bullet for all of these things, but I think it is,” says Elly Blue, 34, author of the recently released book, Everyday Bicycling: How to Ride a Bike for Transportation. Blue’s life was transformed when she made a bicycle part of her daily world; so much so that she now dedicates her writing career largely to the subject.
“Bicycling is just so much more rewarding than driving,” remarks Tammy Strobel, 34, who gained national attention with her husband when they simplified their lives by building a 128-square-foot house. Cycling to work and to run errands was “a huge” piece of their transformation, even after the couple hauled their tiny abode from Portland, Oregon, (where Blue also resides) to a cattle ranch in California.
The 2009 U.S. Census reported that the number of Americans that generally bike to work grew by 43 percent between 2000 and 2008, a statistic that doesn’t surprise Blue. She first tried bike commuting after growing weary of relying on the bus system. “I got hooked on just how good it felt. It’s like flying.” Blue soon found that cycling was also a faster way to commute, restoring control of her schedule, reducing stress and boosting her happiness.
For Strobel, who adds that enjoying nature and increasing daily exercise are also cycling benefits, says it’s bolstered her happiness and quality of life. “I don’t have to spend time going to the gym,” explains the freelance writer and photographer. “I’m getting my exercise on my bike. I feel healthier and in better shape now.”
Several studies show dramatic health benefits for bike commuters. The Archives of Internal Medicine reported that when University of Copenhagen researchers analyzed mortality from all causes in 13,445 women and 17,441 men, they found that non-bike commuters, even those otherwise physically active, had a 39 percent higher mortality rate during the 14-year study period than those that biked to work.
In another study, researchers followed 67,143 women in Shanghai (of whom more than 75 percent cycled) and found those that used bikes had a 20 to 50 percent lower risk of earlier mortality than their non-regularly exercising counterparts. They also boasted reduced rates of diabetes, cancer and cardiovascular disease (American Journal of Epidemiology). Studies published in the Journal of Physical Activity and Health further found that countries with higher numbers of biking or walking commuters have lower obesity rates.
Cycling boons transcend health benefits, expanding social circles for example, Blue and Strobel agree. “I was introduced to a whole new community,” Strobel recalls of her time in Portland with new cycling friends that she joined for group rides and camping trips.
Blue suggests finding fellow cyclists by seeking riding groups online or participating in charity rides. She observes that cycling can instill a greater sense of community, because it’s easier to stop and interact with others.
Cycling also makes people greener and leaner. It reduces gas and car maintenance costs, while keeping polluting vehicles off the road, observes Strobel, who cleared college and other debt by making her life transformation.
“There are just so many benefits to bicycling, and they are all really big things that contribute to the quality of life,” advises Strobel. “It feels so good to be on my bike and just slow down. In my old life, I was moving at such a fast pace that I didn’t even notice the change of seasons. With cycling, you notice everything.”
For biking and other life-simplifying tips, follow both women on their blogs: Blue at TakingTheLane.com/blog and Strobel at RowdyKittens.com/archives. Find equipment specifically designed for women by industry pioneer Georgena Terry at TerryBicycles.com.
Freelance journalist Debra Melani writes about health care and fitness from Lyons, CO. Connect at DebraMelani.com or DMelani@msn.com.