Studies show that bike commuting is one of the best ways to stay healthy


Image (2) bike-commuters-richard-masoner-flickr-500.jpg for post 44692Richard Masoner


It’s always a pleasure when scientific studies confirm your own long-held opinions, especially when what you think flies in the face of all conventional wisdom.

For instance, who knew that chocolate éclairs and triple fudge caramel brownies actually contain fewer calories than a 12-ounce glass of skim milk? Or that every $1,000 you spend on lavish vacations before the age of 65 will, over the long run, provide you with more retirement income than if you’d stashed that same $1,000 in a savings account?

Well, to be honest, I made up the fact about the éclairs. And the one about vacations, too.

But here’s bona fide scholarly research that excites me in the same way: Biking for transportation appears more helpful in losing weight and promoting health than working out at the gym.

This means I can spend less time wearing a grimace as I endure mind-numbing exercise routines at the Y — and more time wearing a smile as I bike to work, shopping, and social events. Just what I always thought.

But hey, don’t take my word for it. According to Australian epidemiologist Takemi Sugiyama, lead author of a recent study in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, “Commuting is a relevant health behavior even for those who are sufficiently active in their leisure time.”

Analyzing the research, The Health Behavior News Service notes, “It may be more realistic to accumulate physical activity through active transport than adding exercise to weekly leisure-time routines.”

The four-year study of 822 adults found that found that people commuting to work by car gained more weight on average, even if they engaged in regular exercise, than people who did not commute by car. The authors of the study recommend creating more opportunities for everyone to walk or bike to work.

An earlier study by researchers at the University of Sydney School of Public Health published in Obesity Reviews (the journal of the International Association for the Study of Obesity) supports the thesis that leisure-time exercise alone is not enough to prevent obesity. Sixty to 90 minutes of daily physical activity is recommended to curb obesity, which is more time than most people can fit into their busy schedules. That’s why the study’s authors recommend “active transport” like biking and walking for commuting other common trips.

Beyond fighting fat, biking and walking for transportation also boosts overall health. A 2007 paper in the European Journal of Epidemiology concludes, “Commuting physical activity, independent of leisure time physical activity, was associated with a healthier level of most of the cardiovascular risk factors.”

The key advantage of traveling by bike over working out at a fitness center is that most people find it easier to do. Instead of vying for scarce free time with many other fun and important things, exercise becomes something we do naturally as part of daily routine. As a study by Portland State University professor Jennifer Dill in the Journal of Public Health Policy shows, 60 percent of Portland cyclists ride for at least 150 minutes per week (the recommended exercise minimum for adults) and that “nearly all the bicycling was for utilitarian purposes, not exercise.”

She adds “a disproportionate share of the bicycling occurred on streets with bicycle lanes, separate paths, or bicycle boulevards” — confirming the importance of bike infrastructure improvements to public health.

In my opinion, all this research also suggests that if I bike a lot for everyday transportation I can sometimes ditch the skim milk in favor of the brownies, and may save enough on auto expenses to both take a cool vacation and fund my retirement account.

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Replies to This Discussion

And if you have a dog, biking your dog is about the funnest thing around!  I think.  And biking with your dog to utilitarian things, makes them funner ...

The downside is, a lot of people are afraid of getting hit by a car, so they're reluctant to bike on the streets.  Especially at busy times, and commuting to work usually would mean being on the streets when they're busy. 

They also are afraid of being exposed to the weather.  I get more comments than you would believe about how cold it is, when I'm starting bike rides ... usually, I haven't even been thinking about the weather. 

But mostly it's fear of cars. 

Even though I've been carfree for 14 years now, I avoid some busy streets. 

A long time ago, I fell on my bike while riding along a busy street.  Nothing hit me, my bike just slipped in the gutter.  And an 18-wheeler went by, inches from my head.  So I avoid streets with heavy truck traffic.

Where I live, people have no respect for bikes on the streets.  It is very dangerous.

Where I live, people have no respect for bikes on the streets.  It is very dangerous.

That's a perception - who knows what the actual risk is.  I've met lots of people who perceive it as very dangerous, but in those 14 years that I've been carfree, I only had one very minor accident.  The driver was making a left turn didn't look where they were going, they just followed the car ahead of me.  But it was at very low speed and neither me or my bike was damaged, and now I'm wary of people making left turns. 

I try to catch drivers' eyes, make sure they see me.  I make big turn signals with my arms.  I use a red rear flasher. 

Better than many people's driving records. 

If you look up bicycle accident statistics, which I did a few years ago, it's more dangerous per mile than driving a car - but people don't bike as far as they drive, so per trip you're probably less likely to have an accident on a bike. 

Motorcycling is far more dangerous than either bicycling or driving.  On a motorcycle, you're in traffic, on a bike you're to the side of traffic, that might be the difference.  Also people go slower on bikes than on motorcycles. 

For the last 10 years I was employed I biked to work.  Well, biked 5 years and recumbent triked 5.  The traffic didn't bother me too much because I went to work at 6:30 AM when there were almost no cars on the road.  Going home was downhill all the way, so I kept-up with the flow of traffic and was never passed.

Luara, that 18-wheeler story is scary.  Reminds me of my worst accident.  Many years ago, when I lived in California, I tried biking to the Bay Area Rapid Transit Train that took me the rest of the way to work.  There were just too many miles to bike through heavy traffic all the way.  

I only tried it for a short time until the accident happened.  I noticed that the slots in the storm drains were in the same direction as my tires, so I tried to stay clear of them.  However, one day the traffic was so intense and the street so narrow that I responded by getting too close to the drain.  My tire went down a slot and stopped my bike, I flew over the handlebars, and my face hit the edge of the curb.  Some good samaritan took me & my bike to get bone fragments picked-out and stitches put in the wound, then took us home.  

Probably not a coincident that a few days later, the storm drains had cross-bars welded in them so that couldn't happen.  The woman that stopped for me, or the doctor, or both, probably reported the incident to the city, and the city was probably concerned with a lawsuit.  Something I wouldn't have done.

I'm sorry to say that my triking has decreased dramatically after retirement, as there is nowhere I have to go now.  I also started to become more concerned with sharing the space with cars and dogs.  Against the law, a lot of people here let their dogs run amok, and they often bark and me and chase me.  On my recumbent trike, their teeth are right at the level of my throat.  A scary thought.

However, in the last few years, I've started doing it more.  I sometime put a trailer on the back and go grocery shopping, but mostly I ride to the greenway trails and ride them as much as possible.  However, it's taking a long time to connect the many short trails, so city street riding is still part of the trip.  The problem with connecting the trails is mostly trying to get easements through private property.  So far no eminent domain has been used.

Many years ago I was bitten by a dog while riding my bike.  When I called the owner, they wanted to know what I had done to the dog.

I'm afraid of dogs because I've been bitten twice and my mother several times, always unprovoked.  Usually, we are unaware of the dog until it happens, so it's not because we are staring at them, which I understand is a sign of aggression to them.  

Too many owners are not responsible caretakers.

That's too bad, people who are afraid of dogs are probably more likely to get bitten.  Dogs are very good at reading people.  So if there's any way you can calm yourself down and develop a sense of assurance around dogs, it would help. 

If you didn't even know the dog was there until it bit you, that couldn't have played a role.  If I were riding my bike and a dog charged at me, I would stop right away.  I have an animal repellent spray that uses citronella, but dogs have only bothered me when my dog was with me. 

When I was a teenager, I was walking around and a german shepherd charged out of its yard, it was only a blur, and it bit me.  The woman had forgotten to close the gate to the yard, and I guess the dog was totally unsocialized.  It didn't make me afraid of dogs, though - that's a rare event. 

Sorry to hear that Lillie.




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