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Remember how fun you used to have biking around the neighborhood as a kid? Who says you have to be 8, barefooted and 70 pounds to feel that rush again?
Biking is a great option to get active and fit because it’s low impact, which means it puts less pressure on your joints. The intensity is adjustable, so you can control the difficulty level based on the gear. Plus, you get to be outside in the fresh air.
But one of the best perks of biking is that you don’t have to train vigorously to reap the healthy benefits. Implement biking as a regular hobby that you can incorporate into your daily routine without even realizing you’re building muscle, endurance and quality of life.
Before you hop on that banana seat bike, though, pause. There’s some key equipment you’ll need first.
What You Need to Have
Invest in a quality helmet. Christie Ward-Ritacco, Ph.D., ACSM-certified exercise physiologist, can’t stress enough the importance of this because many adults think they’re immune to head injuries on the road.
Whether you’re cruising around town doing errands or out on a hardcore training ride, wear a helmet. Plan to spend $50 or more. Aerodynamic helmets are a bonus, but the fit is most important. Go to your local bike store and ask them to properly fit your helmet.
Bike shorts have padding built into the fabric. This protection is a must if you’re logging significant miles in the saddle. There are a million options to choose from, from sweat-resistant to budget-friendly. Check out our list here to find your perfect pair.
Now that you’ve secured a helmet and some snazzy bike shorts, it’s on to finding your noble steed.
Here’s the good news: You don’t need a fancy bike if you’re tooling around town. Biking can be used simply for errands, work and other chores. If you’re just trying to be environmentally-friendly, this may be the perfect healthy hobby for you. However, if you get into longer riding, then investing in a high-quality professional bike will definitely increase your comfort. Do your research and choose a bike best-suited for your needs.
For any ride lasting an hour or longer, bring a water bottle to sip on. Most bikes will have a water-bottle cage mounted on the frame for convenience. If not, carry a water bottle in a waist pack, in a basket or in a backpack.
Be visible. Increasing your visibility takes very little effort on your part.
“Make sure to have adequate reflectors and lights riding at dawn/dusk or after dark,” advises Jill Barnes, Ph.D., assistant professor of kinesiology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Even if you don’t plan to ride after sunset, leave the reflectors on your bike anyway. There are times during the day when reflectors will increase visibility. Choosing brightly colored clothing is also always a good idea, as is attaching a rear blinking safety light. Any sporting goods store or big department store will probably have bike lights — and if not, there’s always the internet. Better to be seen than to be sorry.
The physical health benefits of biking are numerous.
First of all, it’s a cardiovascular exercise, which means it strengthens your heart and lungs. Second, since you’re moving your body consistently while pedaling, you’re actively working your range of motion. This is just another way of saying you’re increasing circulation or moving the blood around, which keeps your muscles and joints moving easily. And the third benefit of many is that cycling strengthens your muscles, especially if you’re pedaling up hills grinding out a hard gear.
Harvard University says biking at a speed of 12 to 14 mph burns about 300 calories in 30 minutes for someone weighing about 150 pounds. Healthier heart and lungs, stronger muscles and burning calories — not bad for a hobby!
Moving for Your Mentality
There are mental health benefits of biking, too.
Pedaling for merely 15 minutes results in a decline of cortisol (the stress hormone), improves cognitive function and improves your mood. Sure, you have other hobbies like watching Netflix and playing Candy Crush, but can they do all that?
What You Need to Know
Skip the earphones for safety. Skip the earphones and any other distractions, at least in the beginning.
“Avoid wearing headphones when road cycling so that you can hear everything going on around you,” Ward-Ritacco advises.
Additionally, not fussing with and adjusting headphones will help improve your bike-handling skills. Unless you’re MacGyver, keep both hands on the handles, got it?
Know the rules of the road (and follow them). Cyclists should ride on the same side as cars traveling in the same direction. Cyclists also should obey the same rules as cars, like stopping at stop signs and red lights and yielding on left turns.
Use hand signals to communicate with drivers, other cyclists and pedestrians. And no, we’re not talking about the middle finger. Read over the proper signage from the League of American Bicyclists.
Barnes recommends planning ahead when deciding where to ride.
“Plan your route and familiarize yourself with where the bike paths, bike lanes or bike corridors are before you ride,” she says.
So come on. It’s time to shut down Netflix for the day, call your mom (she’ll love to hear from you, anyways) and ask if she still has your old bike in the corner of the dusty garage (trust us, she will).
If you don’t start biking again, one day you’ll look back and be wheelie, wheelie sorry.