Two-wheeled riding weather is about three months in Buffalo. Four to five if you’re brave or don’t mind the cold and rain. A patient of mine put it best: “My bike comes out when I see sun and 65+ degrees.” But is the bike a good thing for YOU? I’d like to teach you:
- Who DOES benefit from biking?
- What are the benefits?
- An exercise to help you return to biking if you haven’t in years
Is the Bike Right for You?
A 2008 study of nearly a thousand people aged 50-70 years old showed riding a bike even just once a week had a significant effect on heart, lung and blood vessel health. Most of us know that biking can be good for us, but the barrier I find in many of my patients is based on confidence more than anything else. I’d like to give you a definitive “yes” or “no” to your “should I bike?” question.
Let’s cut to the chase. There are some people who would be better off beginning with another mode of exercise before progressing to the bike. There are some workarounds, including the stationary bicycle, but if you have any of the following, talk more with your PT about whether biking is right for you:
- You need a cane or walker to walk
- You’ve had a recent concussion or brain trauma
- You’ve had recent heart surgery
- You have an active spinal disc herniation
On the other hand, bicycling would be great for you if:
- You have high blood pressure
- You would like to lose weight
- You’d like to begin low-impact exercise
- You want an unobtrusive way to exercise each week
What’s the Point?
Let’s play the skeptic. Why would you spend precious time riding a bicycle? The benefits are numerous. There’s truly not enough room in this article to articulate them all. But here are a few:
Biking is a great way to make your legs stronger. It engages most muscles in your legs including your hamstrings, quads, calves, and glutes. Utilizing the full span of gears is a simple way to make pedaling easier (less strength benefit) or harder (more strength benefit). The more consistent you are, the stronger your muscles become, and the easier it is to do everyday things like squat/bend/lift/carry.
Are you out of breath after a flight of stairs or a long walk? Your endurance could use some work! Endurance is like the reserve in our fuel tank. This tank dictates how much we can do each day. If your reserve is low, expect that you’ll have difficulty at the end of busy days simply because your body isn’t used to producing enough energy. The stronger you heart and the more enduring your muscles, the easier it is to do daily things like garden, walk, rake, and shovel. Improve your endurance on a bike with short rides at first (10 minutes) and work up to 15-30 minutes over the course of 4-6 weeks.
Last, but not least, are your hips, knees and ankles perpetually stiff? Someone once said “motion is lotion” and as cheesy as it may sound – it’s true. Riding a bike is an easy way to encourage repetitive motion of the joints in our legs. This can improve blood flow, help spread the lubricating fluids in our joints, and decrease the feeling of muscle stiffness.
Try This Exercise
Let’s get you ready for the bike. This exercise will work in tandem with the bike to develop strength, balance, and coordination. All you need is a step and a place to hold on if your not as confident in you balance.
- Face the step, hold on if necessary, and place one foot *entirely* on the step
- Lean forward slightly and push through your heel to step upwards
- Plant your second foot on the step or keep it raised in the air if you want a challenge
- Return to your start position and repeat for 2-3 sets of 10-15 reps
- Alternate sides or practice one side, then the other
In summary, the bike is a great way to discover new things around your neighborhood and get some exercise doing so! Sometimes we spend so much time “adulting” that we forget what it’s like to discover or try something new. Be a kid for a moment and enjoy the ride. Your bike will make you:
- More enduring
- More mobile
- Less likely to develop cardiovascular diseases
Check out this quick video for a few tips about biking and a review of the Step-Up:
If you’d like to learn more about bicycling or would like to speak directly with one of our Physical Therapists, you can schedule your free appointment here.
Huy, Christina, et al. “Health, medical risk factors, and bicycle use in everyday life in the over-50 population.” Journal of aging and physical activity 16.4 (2008): 454-464.