Riding a bike exercises the body, mind, heart. It tones muscle and burns fat. And it’s what many of us did for fun before we got our driver’s license.
You don’t need an expensive bike or dress in skin-tight lycra as if you’re going to be the next Lance Armstrong. A comfortable cruiser on quiet neighborhood roads, park trail or one of the great rail-trails of northern Michigan will have you rolling into a new, healthier you.
Biking is great for all ages, but it is also becoming the choice activity of healthy seniors. You don’t have to be a Robert Marchand (competitive cyclist who set records as a 105-year-old) to know that biking is easier on the joints than jogging.
Reasons to Start Pedaling:
Keeps You Younger for Longer.
You can rightly assume an activity you did when you were 12 would make you feel like a kid again. But it’s a bit more than just nostalgia for your old Stingray. Cycling literally puts the breaks on aging, according to a 2018 article in The Guardian. Studies showed that amateur cyclists age 55-79 preserved muscle mass and strength, and maintained stable levels of body fat and cholesterol, when compared to non-exercising, healthy seniors and young adults. Biking was also connected to stable testosterone levels in men, and improved immunity in all.
Keeps the Brain Healthy.
Some brain functions can decline as we age. But a study by the Journal of Clinical and Diagnostic Research found that people who pedaled 30 minutes on a stationary bike showed improved memory and reasoning. Other studies show that cycling leads to a greater amount of blood flow, bringing oxygen and nutrients to the brain.
Many studies have shown that regular exercise of any kind can boost one’s mood, but biking might be a special case. The bicycle is considered the most-efficient machine, the equivalent of the average car driving 1,600 miles on a gallon of gas. The ability to go 10 mph or more with just a moderate amount of effort leads bikers to say that it feels like flying, it feels like freedom, it simply feels fun.
See the World Up Close.
Cyclists note an up-close, intimate view of their environment when riding. At slower speeds than a car, with nothing obstructing your view, you see everything while on a bike. In the Crystal Lake Health Centers’ area of Michigan, we’ve got the best views in the state. Car-free trails with stunning views of Lake Michigan, serene woods, majestic dunes, and charming towns include the Betsie Valley Trail, Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail, Leelanau Trail and the many branches of the TART (Traverse Area Recreation and Transportation Trails).
Guidelines for Bike Beginners:
We asked Mark Wedel, West Michigan biking author and travel writer, for his advice for beginning cyclists. He writes:
Use the bike you’re comfortable with. Cruisers or “comfort bikes,” which allow an upright body position, are often the best choice for those getting back into the saddle as adults. They might not be as rugged as mountain bikes nor as fast as road racers, but you’re likely to find that comfort is a motivating factor that keeps you pedaling. They are usually in the lower-end of the price range, too.
Fit your bike! An old or new bike, poorly fitted to your frame, can lead to knee, back and other pains. Consult your local bike shop for a fitting.
Safety first! Always wear a helmet. I’ve hit my head on the ground a number of times, and a helmet is why I’m still able to write this. If riding in traffic, be sure to follow the basic rules of the road, keep visible (bright clothing, lights), and keep your eye on motor vehicles. If traffic makes you fearful, start with low-and-slow-traffic roads in quiet neighborhoods, or seek out non-motorized trails and pathways.
Know, but increase, your limits. Ride the miles you can, then ride more miles as you gain strength and stamina. My first ride when I started this obsession was a little over three miles, and that left me rubber-legged and exhausted. A year of riding later, and I did my first century — 100 miles — which, yes, left me rubber-legged and exhausted. But the magical thing I discovered was, the more I rode, the more I could ride.