Bicycling improves health in multiple ways
Bicycle riding for practical trips — commuting, shopping, errands, school, appointments — can also provide a boost to overall health.
Physical movement helps regain and retain flexibility and mobility, improves heart-lung capacity, accelerates recovery from injury and adds to mental sharpness.
The special thing about practical cycling is that you are going anyway. Riders can replace — or at least supplement — separate gym workouts and therapy sessions with a ride to the store or to a meeting, saving time overall.
With help from local physical therapist and muscle-health guru Karen Church, here are some particulars.
One of the primary tenets of healing and recovery from injury is keeping the joints and muscles moving, without hard impact.
The circular, low weight-bearing nature of bicycle riding warms and stretches muscles and connective tissue while protecting them from the jarring of running, weight lifting or contact sports.
Effective injury-recovery therapy, including riding, keeps injured muscles from permanently shortening or tightening, thus avoiding a long-term hitch or limp.
Be sure to include stretching as part of your riding habit, even for short trips. A minute or two of counter-movement for muscles that work while riding — biceps, chest, hamstrings, outer hip and upper back — keeps them lengthened and ready for the next ride.
Use a foam roller, if you have one, to accentuate your stretches.
Choosing and varying riding posture keeps the body upright and stretched, increasing flexibility, endurance and strength for other physical activities, including everyday chores and walking.
When riding, emphasize the hip hinge as primary axis of motion, while maintaining a neutral trunk — with shoulders, head and neck in alignment. This reduces stress on any one muscle or tissue group, increasing comfort and endurance. It also increases the strength of shoulders and abdominal core muscles.
Maintain light pressure on the handlebars (while maintaining good control); don’t grip too hard. This helps avoid muscle fatigue and numbness, especially in the hands and forearms.
Because riding requires attention to balance while moving, the body naturally engages a wider array of muscles and muscle memory than does either sitting or a single repetitive exercise.
The active, flexible body is better able to come through physical bumps and falls with less impact or injury.
Fascia and connective tissue, key parts of the musculature, become more elastic with movement. Motion is lotion for those key connectors.
Increased blood circulation that comes with even mild exertion improves the overall circulatory systems — including the heart, arteries and lymph network.
Good basic physical health, enhanced by regular movement, also strengthens the body’s immune system, an important factor in the current season of cold mornings and shorter days.
REFRESH THE BRAIN
A stimulating workout, short of the point of exhaustion or physical pain — like a good ride across town — stimulates blood flow.
This is particularly important in keeping the brain focused, alert and perceptive while riding, but it also improves what is called the neuroplasticity of the brain, making you mentally sharper in general.
Bicycling can even make you better-looking by improving your mood. Bicyclists smile a lot.
Glenwood Springs Bicycle Advocates provide tips and support for cyclists and drivers to encourage bicycling. For more information, call 618-8264.