Bicycling: A Great Alternative Exercise

Around the year 2000 I finally decided I needed to come up with some sort of exercise regimen.  I had had a heart attack 2 years prior, and it was a strong recommendation of my primary care physician, who also happened to be a cardiologist.  I took up jogging as that was what everyone did.  I don’t think I ever considered joining a gym at that moment but that may have been due more to where I was living than anything else.

I found this pond about 10 miles from where I was living that had a paved walkway around its perimeter.  It was about 2.25 miles total.  I started by doing a combination of jogging and walking, increasing how long I jogged with each successive session, and after a while I could run the route non-stop, and then ran twice around non-stop.  I was doing great until my knees started complaining.  My doctor had an MRI done on my knees and informed me that I had a pretty good case of arthritis and suggested I take up swimming or some other form of low-impact exercise.  That didn’t sit well and said as much.  He suggested that I need to build up the muscles around my jointed which I did.  After about 5 years of jogging I noticed that it was not only boring me to tears, even with the Walkman, it seemed to become more and more difficult.  My stamina was messed up.

It was at that point, I don’t remember why, I thought of how when I was a kid I had loved riding my bike.  I went out and purchased a good beginners bicycle.  I had the good fortune as well that I had moved to a place right next to a rail-trail, the Minuteman Railtrail, that is 11 miles long in one direction.  It took me a few weeks just to get used to riding a bike again.  Then I had to figure out how to handle the 22 miles of round-trip involved.  One of my first discoveries was how easy it was to overdo things.  That is, I was in no shape nor well enough accomplished to being doing that 22 miles right away.  That is when it occurred to me to break the trip up into what I think of as turn around points.  Those were points at a particular distance that would still give me a good exercise without overdoing it.  It was so bad one time that I was actually taken to the hospital from a combination of overheating and dehydration.  Not fun!  But it told me I needed to learn a lot more about proper bicycle exercise.

Today, I consider myself something of an expert bicyclist but only where non-professional, or non-competition bicycling and bicyclists are concerned.  One of the great things about bicycling is that it tends towards longer periods of exercise than either walking or jogging.  I doubt that at my best when I was jogging it ever lasted much longer than an hour and a half.  My bicycling exercise can easily go twice that amount of time and health experts agree that length of cardiovascular exercise, which biking can be, is just as important as how hard you exercise, maybe more so.

To illustrate how effective bicycling has been for me, this year I will turn 64.  I can frequently go out for a 30+ mile non-stop bike ride.  That was unimaginable several years ago, particularly for someone at my age.  The older you get the more difficult it is to maintain any sort of regular exercise regimen.  My current primary care physician, who herself is an avid bicyclist, noted that the last time she took my pulse and blood pressure that were both what you would expect to find in a 30 year-old runner.  That felt awesome to hear.

Living in the northeast the winter months do not lend themselves to bicycling.  Because of that I joined a gym that I use on the cold and inclement days.  That I have little use for a gym in the summer months does not make it a waste of money.  During these winter months I use the elliptical and stationary bike to keep myself in bicycling shape.  It works!  The point here being, I do not allow myself an excuse for not exercising regularly.

If you have read this and are thinking you might want to buy I bicycle let me tell you one of the biggest mistakes I see beginners making.  They go to the bike store and buy a mountain bike because it looks both sturdy and stable, both of which it is, of course!  But it is absolutely the wrong bike for the beginner so do not let the salesperson sell you want.  What you want is what is called a “road bike” or “commuter bike.”  The tell-tale for such bikes is their tires.  A mountain bike has the widest tires while racing bikes have the thinnest.  What you want is a tire that is in-between.  Also, mountain bikes weigh 40 pounds or more!  A good beginners bike should not weight much more than 30 pounds.  That 10 pound difference is a big deal.  My own bike weighs in at 24 pounds.   The better racing bikes come in at 14 pounds or less.  They also cost $5000 at least.  A good beginner’s bike will cost between $350 and $600.

I recommend that when you go to a bicycle dealer, you find one that is not part of a chain.  He should also have a fairly sizeable inventory and repair what he sells.  One way to find out what shops avid bicyclists use is to find online bicycling clubs in your area and see where they buy their bikes.  Many of them affiliate themselves with a particular bicycle shop.  They also likely have classes on bike maintenance and how to ride a bike.  That “how” includes things like what to wear, what to eat and drink, how to ride safely, and where the best riding routes are.

Over the past calendar year, 2012, I put 4000 miles on my bike, and upon reflection I know I could easily have done another 1000 if I had planned a little better.  But that is now this year’s plan.  I have found the money I invested in biking has given me a huge return on my investment.  My health is fabulous, I move easily, and I fully expect live to be 100.


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