There are so many good reasons to commute by bike, it’s a wonder that everyone isn’t doing it! Here are my Top Ten reasons to be a bike commuter – including losing weight, getting fitter, becoming less stressed, saving money and – of course – saving the planet!
Reason #1 to Start Bike Commuting: To lose weight and build lean muscle
Ok, so we all know that regular exercise will help us to build lean muscle and lose fat. But how hard is it to get to the gym every day? How about twice a day, every day? Unless you have the dedication of a young Schwarzenegger, that’s pretty much impossible … (trust me, I’ve tried and failed, many times).
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BUT if you commute by bike, you automatically get two workouts per day. If you weigh 150 pounds, and you spend 1.5 hours a day cycling, you should burn approximately an extra 600 calories per day … which is 156,000 calories per year, which should equal losing 45 pounds – without eating less! (Figure out how many calories you could burn here.)
Plus, you keep burning more calories even once you get off your bike!
“Even after cycling for 30 minutes you could be burning a higher amount of total calories for a few hours after you stop,” says Mark Simpson of Loughborough University.
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Bike commuting usually includes some HIIT training
Research shows that integrating intervals of increased effort into your cycling can increase the rate of fat burning more than three-fold. This is also called High Intensity Interval Training. Personally, I find it hard to intentionally do intense-effort intervals. However, the reality of cycle commuting is that you will naturally do some harder intervals – for example, as you race to get to a light before it changes, or as you climb up hills.
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Reason # 2: To get healthier
The regular exercise you will get from cycle commuting is the best thing you could do for both physical and mental health. It protects against the major causes of death, including cardiovascular disease, obesity, cancer, and high blood pressure. Purdue University researchers showed that regular cycling can reduce your risk of a heart attack by up to 50%.
Exercise also may be more effective than drugs for fighting depression. Research shows that middle-aged people who bike to work usually have a fitness level of a person ten years younger.
The health benefits are so great that cycling is apparently TWENTY TIMES less dangerous than not cycling!
Cycling also protects you from minor ailments: a study at the University of Nottingham found that transit riders were six times more likely to develop acute respiratory infections. Another study found all kinds of fun things in passenger vehicles, including E. coli, salmonella, and campylobacter (a bacteria that caused food poisoning)!
Source: Academy of Medical Royal Colleges. Exercise: The miracle cure and the role of the doctor in promoting it. February 2015.
Reason #3: To save the planet for our kids and grandkids
Say you commute five miles a day, and you switch from a car to a bike for just one month: you will have saved the earth from an astonishing one pound of hydrocarbons, six pounds of carbon monoxide, and half a pound of nitrogen oxides. And if you commute even further – well, you do the math. Even so, it’s easy to think, “Well, just one person is not going to make a real difference.”
When my youngest daughter was ten she said to me, “I know it won’t save the planet or anything, but I would just feel better about myself if I became a vegetarian.” (And yes, a very proud moment for me!) She’s 14 now and STILL a vegetarian. And she’s right – she won’t be able to save the planet on her own.
But I know she feels a whole lot better because she is at least HELPING to save the world. And after four years, she has actually made some kind of real impact on all the industries that rely primarily on mass-producing animals in inhumane ways for human consumption.
In the same way, each individual contribution to reducing pollution and global warming is significant, especially if it is regular and long term. After all, that was exactly how we polluted the planet in the first place – most people just did a little bit of harm, every day for a long time, and together, we really messed it up!
And hey, did you know that human beings on a bike get the equivalent of around 2,924 miles to the gallon! (This has to do with the kind of fuel we consume; plus the fact that we weigh about six times what bikes weigh, but cars weigh about twenty times what we weigh.)
Reason #4: To be a good role model for kids
In 1969, 48% of kids in North America cycled or walked to school; by 2012, that was down to an all-time low of 13%. At the same time, obesity and diabetes among kids has soared … there’s just got to be a connection. So get on a bike, and help to save the children too.
Reason #5: To put yourself in a good mood in the morning
No matter how bad I feel when I drag myself out of bed on Monday morning, by the time I’ve been on my bike for 20 minutes I’m usually singing from the sheer joy of living. It’s the endorphin rush that does it – by the time I get to work I’m in an upbeat mood that usually lasts for a good few hours (and then I get back on my bike!).
Research shows that exercise can combat depression at least as effectively as (probably harmful) medications.
Also, it’s a scientific fact that the more time we spend in the sunshine, the better we feel. Biking to work makes sure you spend some time outdoors, every day. The light inside is about 300 lux, while the light outside, even on an overcast day, is over 1,000 lux.
All this light boosts your levels of the feel-good hormone, serotonin.
“Exercising outside exposes you to daylight,” explains Professor Jim Horne from Loughborough University’s Sleep Research Center. “This helps get your circadian rhythm back in sync and rids your body of cortisol, the stress hormone that can prevent deep, regenerative sleep.”
Reason #6: To de-stress on your way home
When I leave work, I am often completely wound up with stress. If I drive home, I sit in traffic that is often moving slower than the bikes whizzing past me, getting more and more stressed. But when I bike home, I can actually feel the stress falling off me and getting left behind in the dust (or puddles). By the time I get home, I’m relaxed and refreshed, and ready to enjoy the evening. No wonder that research at Stanford University has shown that as little as 20 minutes of cycling a day is very effective for people with insomnia – helping them get to sleep in half the time, and stay asleep for about an hour longer.
Reason #7: To get a chance to think
I have some of my most original thoughts while I’m biking; I suspect it has to do with all the blood circulation.
“[Commuting by bicycle is] an absolutely essential part of my day. It’s mind-clearing, invigorating.” James L. Jones, former US Supreme Allied Commander Europe, now Barack Obama’s national security advisor.
Albert Einstein, speaking about the theory of relativity, said: “I thought of that while riding my bike.”
Reason #8: To save money
Cycling is WAY cheaper than driving a car, and usually much cheaper than transit too. The Sierra Club calculates that a bike is 30 times cheaper to maintain than a car. And that’s without even thinking about the difference in price tag!
It costs just $308 per year to keep bikes in shape – nearly 30 times less than cars, according to the Sierra Club: “If American drivers were to make just one four-mile round trip each week with a bicycle instead of a car, they would save nearly 2 billion gallons of gas. At $4 per gallon, total savings would be $7.3 billion a year.” (Business Insider)
Reason #9: To help make cycling safer for everyone
Research very clearly shows that the more people cycle in a region, the safer it is. This has to do with increased visibility and increased driver awareness – and eventually, better infrastructure. If you cycle, they will build it (eventually)!
“It’s a virtuous cycle,” says Dr Julie Hatfield, an injury expert from UNSW. “The likelihood that an individual cyclist will be struck by a motorist falls with increasing rate of bicycling in a community. And the safer cycling is perceived to be, the more people are prepared to cycle.”
Reason # 10 to be a Bike Commuter: So that you can register for a Bike to Work Week!
If you start biking during a bike to work week, you have the support of numerous volunteer stations along the way, and free mechanical help. And if you register and log your rides, you have the chance to win great prizes every day.
To conclude, I just have to quote the bicycle salesman in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969):
“Meet the future; the future mode of transportation for this weary Western world. Now I’m not gonna make a lot of extravagant claims for this little machine. Sure, it’ll change your whole life for the better, but that’s all.”
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