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Natural Awakenings Charlotte

Bike to Work - The Two-Wheel Commuting Wow

by Paul Dorn

People might start commuting by bicycle to improve their fitness, save money or support sustainability, but they continue because it’s fun.

Ask a motorist about their commute and they’ll frown, at best. Ask a bicyclist about their commute and they’ll smile, and likely mention the endorphin rush, fresh air, wildlife spotted that morning, the new breakfast shop discovered en route or how their retirement accounts are swelling with money saved by not driving.

Health Benefits

The health benefits of bicycling are recognized around the world. Cycling is a holistic form of exercise that gradually builds strength and muscle tone with little risk of over-exercise or strain, according to Legs, thighs, hips and buttocks all benefit, including hip and knee joints. The average cyclist burns about 300 calories during a 20-minute commute, while also improving coordination.

Commuting bicyclists easily meet the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s recommendation that adults engage in moderate-intensity physical activities for 30 minutes or more at least five days a week. A study in the Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports concluded that just 30 minutes of bicycle commuting improved aerobic fitness, cardiovascular load, cholesterol and the burning of fats for energy.

According to the British Medical Association, in a nine-year study of 9,000 UK civil servants, those who cycled 25 miles a week (2.5 miles each way) experienced half the heart attacks as those who shunned physical exercise. A long-term Copenhagen Heart study of more than 30,000 men and women found that even after adjusting for other risk factors, those who biked to work had a 39 percent lower mortality rate than those who did not.

A less stressful commute also contributes to mental well-being, even to the point of countering depression. A study at Duke University found that 60 percent of people suffering from depression overcame it by exercising for 30 minutes three times a week without antidepressant medication, which is comparable to the rate of relief people generally achieve through medication alone.

Daily exercise may also help prevent memory loss, according to several recent studies from the United States and Europe. The research, reported by the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and others, suggests that because regular aerobic exercise—such as bicycling, swimming or running—can improve cardiorespiratory fitness by up to 14 percent, it helps improve brain function. Further, improved overall health helps prevent certain diseases that may affect mental health.

Cost & Time Benefits

When it comes to sustainability, the bicycle is one of the most energy-efficient personal transportation devices ever created. According to the American Automobile Association, the average annual cost of operating a sedan for 15,000 miles in 2010 totals $8,487; for an SUV, it’s $11,085. Vehicle costs include depreciation, finance charges, fuel, maintenance, tires, tolls, insurance and taxes. Given the latest U.S. median annual household income of $52,029 reported by the Census Bureau in 2008, the cost of car ownership exceeds 15 or 20 percent of the typical household’s income. A quality bicycle, which can be purchased for the price of about one car payment, will never need fueling, is inexpensive to repair and has an operating carbon footprint that’s next to nil.

Bicycle commuting is surprisingly time-efficient, too. Federal Highway Administration statistics show that nearly half of all trips in this country are three miles or less. More than a quarter of all trips are less than a mile. A three-mile trip by bicycle takes about 20 minutes; in a busy city, traveling the same distance by car can take longer. Add in getting a car out of a parking space, into traffic, through lights and congestion and parked again, and for many urban and neighborhood trips, bicycles are simply faster from point to point.

Making a good thing even better, bicycle commuting saves time that would otherwise be spent at a gas station, car wash, automobile mechanic, department of motor vehicles and even traffic court. Plus, without the large cost of operating a car, it’s just possible that bicyclists might even save the necessity of time spent at a second job. As yet another bonus, there’s next to no time spent sitting in traffic.

Paul Dorn, a writer and activist in Sacramento, California, is co-author (with Roni Sarig) of The Bike to Work Guide: Save Gas, Go Green, Get Fit. He is a former editor of the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition newsletter, former executive director of the California Bicycle Coalition, and a League of American Bicyclists certified instructor.

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