Category: Health

Go outside! Get healthy!

Go outside! Get healthy!

“So ardent a cyclist must be full of good health.”

Arthur Conan Doyle, The Adventure of the Solitary Cyclist

A cyclist is full of good health. Riding a bike has a real health benefits. First, it’s low impact. Since you don’t land on a hard surface with every step, you may experience less joint pain and damage…I’ve known a number of riders who used to be runners. They gave up running eventually and discovered they they could continue to get great aerobic exercise by hopping on a bike instead.

It also uses lots of the body’s muscle groups…not only the legs get a workout. Glutes, back, core, arms; all help keep the bike upright and keep it moving.

Riding a bicycle generally gets you to breathe deeper (you can vary the intensity to made it as hard, or as easy, as you’d like!). And a 2014 study actually showed that people driving bicycles were exposed to far less air pollution than those driving cars!

Active people just feel better! Exercise causes the release of adrenalin and endorphins, which may energize you and make you feel good. And the extra activity burns calories…there’s no guarantee you’ll lose weight, but if that’s a goal, cycling (or any other exercise) may help you reach it.

Heart rate: cycling raises it, and is a good way to cut risk of heart disease. Many exercises will do this, and more. Possible side effects of exercise include improved sleep, brain health, and a strengthened immune system.

And here’s a shocker: using a bicycle for those short trips and errands often takes less time than using a car. Think about it. Getting in the car, driving to where you need to go, finding a parking place, walking to the entrance…or…jump on the bike, drive to where you need to go, park right by the front door, BOOM. Many “races” in numerous cities ended with the bicyclist arriving long before the motorist.

Want a little more information about how cycling can help? Check out these articles from Cycling Weekly, Harvard Health Publishing, MDAnderson. Or try it out yourself. Get on your bike and ride!

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Food, glorious food

Food, glorious food

“I eat to ride, I ride to eat. At the best of moments, I can achieve a perfect balance, consuming just the right amount of calories as I fill up at bakeries, restaurants or ice cream parlors.”

Daniel Behrman, The Man Who Loved Bicycles

Yep, my philosophy. I used to joke about it with my riding buddies. When I first started doing long-distance rides (by that I mean the annual 7-day, 500-mile charity ride I participated in for 9 years), I ate massive quantities of food during the ride. To paraphrase the hobbits: breakfast, second breakfast, 11sies, lunch. tea, dinner, supper, snack…I’m sure it was the riding that allowed me to consume such a massive amounts of calories without blowing up like a balloon. But that elusive balance he talks about? It’s kinda hard to achieve sometimes. Especially since I’m not doing anywhere near that kind of riding these days.

When I moved back to New Orleans a few years ago, I noticed a bit of weight creep. Nothing major, just a few pounds, but at the same time my bike miles were down significantly. Realizing what was going on, I started paying attention to it. That was something I never had to do. Good genes, I guess, but adding excess weight was never a problem. That changed.

So I started paying attention. But I live in New Orleans! I need not tell you what that means re: food. I’ve mostly found a balance again. I get out on the bike for a long ride once a week or so, and get in what I can for short trips on other days. And I’ve cut back on some of that food, glorious New Orleans food a bit.

But…all things in moderation. I think I’ll go get an order of beignets and cafe au lait now…

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Bikes as a workout, too

Bikes as a workout, too

“My own preferred fitness regime is to use my bicycle.”

-Paul Hollywood, celebrity chef

I’ve done a lot of different types of exercise over the years. Nautilus machines. Dumbbells. Barbells. Kettlebells. Aerobics. Cybex. Universal. Ellipticals. Body weight. Rowers. Bodypump.

You get the idea. For my entire adult life I’ve exercised in one way or another. Maybe that’s why in a recent hospital stay, they kept saying, “Wait. All of your vitals and lab values are great. You’re a healthy man living in New Orleans. How does that happen?”

Or maybe it’s in the genes; or both? I don’t know.

But, I will say that my favorite activity to keep myself going/ healthy/ happy is to ride my bike. For so many reasons. When I train new League Cycling Instructors, part of the very first exercise includes the question, “What one word would you use to describe what learning to ride a bike meant to you?” The most common answer is freedom.

Yes. The freedom to expand your life: from your home, your neighborhood, even your city (for more ambitious riders)…

For me, as an adult, it’s another kind of freedom. When I’m on the bike, I can think about anything, or nothing. I can solve the problems of the world, or I can intentionally let everything go. And regardless, I’m exercising! Oh yeah, this is about exercising.

But bicycling gives me so much more. Out in the air. Seeing the world. Smelling the flowers (and in passing the farms in New Jersey, smelling other things!). Talking with friends (I like riding alone, but it’s better when friends are there too). And thinking, or not. And meanwhile, my heart is pumping more. I’m breathing more deeply. My muscles, at least the lower half of my body and my core) are getting a workout. OK, so I still need to exercise the upper half, but that’s fine. Days on a bike are especially good days.

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But ride

But ride

“Ride as much or as little, or as long or as short, as you feel. But ride.” Eddy Merckx

Yes, that. For many reasons. I find that my riding has been neither as frequent nor as far as I would like this year. Part of it is the back and forth of travel. Part of it is inertia. None of it is for good reason. I have noticed that no matter how much or how little I ride, I love it equally. I have managed to get in a few longer rides, but many of my trips this year have been short ones: to the bagel shop, to the hardware store, to the farmers’ market. On that one, I got my wife to ride with me. She didn’t think we could do the trip on the bikes; she assumed we’d drive the car. I grabbed the Ortlieb bags. We carried home corn, tomatoes, and a number of other fresh herbs and vegetables, zucchini flowers (for stuffing at dinner that night!) and a bouquet of fresh flowers for the table. It was nice.

A few trips on the Mississippi River Trail in New Orleans; a few rides on Long Beach Island in NJ. Other than that, short jaunts on the cruiser. But on all of them, the same feeling of joy. Of freedom. Of peace. All days are gifts, but days that include a bike ride are special.

You’ve seen articles on the bike and its contribution to physical health, to the environment, to business, to traffic mitigation…and to mental health. I can only speak for myself: a bike ride is a recharge/reset; a mental break; a chance to enjoy the beauty around us.

Go recharge. Go do yourself some good. Go for a long ride, or a short one…but ride.

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A moment…

A moment…

OK, this is a complete (well, not for me) diversion from the usual. I’ll relate an experience I had this week (off the bike) and it’s only tangentially related. So if you’d rather not get philosophical today, move along…

Those of you who know me may know of my fascination with labyrinths. I’ve admired them, walked them…even tattooed one on my leg. That’s part of the story.

I’ve never been much on tattoos. I felt that, for me, at least, it had to mean something. Until I found something that truly meant something to me, I would not put it on my body. As some of you know, that happened last year. I had said for years that a tattoo of the Chartres labyrinth would be cool. For me, these were the reasons why: 1) I’ve been fascinated with it for years. The journey of faith, of pilgrimage, of prayer, represented there was important to me; 2) I’ve often considered bike riding a “physical” prayer, much like walking the labyrinth; 3) the dentelles, or teeth, surrounding the labyrinth reminds me strongly of a chainring.

So I finally decided to do it last year. I had it placed on the inside of my right calf, right where a “chain tattoo” would be.

And then this happened early this week:

A local church advertised a labyrinth walk. I decided to go in. I approached the canvas labyrinth, and near the entrance, two ladies were seated. As I got close, I said, “Good morning,” and, having worn shorts, I turned slightly and they saw the tattoo. One responded enthusiastically and asked if she could take a picture of it. The other, meanwhile, asked how much it hurt then said, “You idiot.” The first lady laughed nervously, and said, “Leave it to (second lady) to come up something like that.”

Second lady scurried away, and I began walking the labyrinth. I prayed. I was overwhelmed by the comment and thought that I needed to address it with her. I had no idea what to say. On my way back from the “center,” it came to me. Jesus said, “If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over.” (Matthew 18:15)

So I did. As I exited the labyrinth, she was walking by. I said to her, “I really need to speak to you about something.” I told her that Jesus said we should point out our brothers’ and sisters’ fault. I said, “This is the first time I’ve ever come to pray and been called an idiot.”

She apologized profusely and we hugged. She thanked me for giving her the opportunity to right the wrong. She had realized what she had done the moment she said it, and moved away in embarrassment. We talked some more, about labyrinths, about who we were, about prayer, and then we hugged again. It turned full circle – from a wonderful moment, to a moment of doubt, to a wonderful reconciliation.

The Lord works in mysterious ways.

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Wounded…

Wounded…

The problem is that you can be wounded in your mind as well as your physique.

Marco Pantani

A crash changes lives. The injury is real. The scars prove it.

For some, getting over it and moving on is not very difficult. For others the fear paralyzes. It prevents them from experiencing the joy they once felt. It imprisons them in a world that threatens, not promises. It causes them to deny that which they love to prevent further loss.

I understand the “wounded mind.” Let me tell you about two experiences in my life. In the 90’s, I was in a car crash. Later, even when the doctor cleared me to drive, I was afraid. I coudn’t bear to get behind the wheel again, until finally my wife told me I couldn’t stop living and she wouldn’t drive me anywhere. I had to face the reality, no, the fear, of driving in order to continue living my life. And of course, my wounded mind healed.

Then nearly six years ago, I crashed on my bicycle. It was serious. Broken clavicle, broken ribs, torn bicep tendon, broken thumb, chest bleed, brain bleed. Medevac to trauma hospital. In the trauma unit for 9 days. I have no recollection of the event itself. I “wasn’t there;” short-term amnesia occurred. I don’t remember falling over. I don’t remember hitting the pavement. I don’t remember the pain of my (not insignificant!) injuries. My first (fleeting) memory was opening my eyes and hearing (realizing? being told?) that I was in a helicopter. I don’t remember much else for the next few days. Just pain. People coming and going. Bad dreams. The sheer joy of seeing my family. Bad food. Friends beside me. LEGO candies (yes, really!)

The wounded mind, though.

After this crash, things were different. I didn’t experience the same prison I did after the car crash. I couldn’t wait to get back on the bike. I was ecstatic when my doctor cleared me to ride again. But my mind was wounded that day too, and I was not the only one. My wife was wounded, too. Her wounds are just not visible…to you. They were and still are real. I still see them each time I say I’m going for a ride. But I can’t stop living. And I won’t stop doing the things I love. She knows that I take the utmost care when I go out on a ride. And she gives me her blessing. But like the scars I still have on my arms and the clavicle that healed out of kilter, our wounded minds are scarred as well. I still think about that day, and she still worries. It’s not the same as it was before. But we have healed.

A couple of days ago, I shared a meme on facebook that is relevant here: “God didn’t add another day in your life because you needed it…He added it because someone out there needs you.” There is something to be learned (and shared) in your experience. You may not know what that is right now. Search it out. Embrace it. Share it. And in that, you will heal.

So if you’ve been through this in some way, know that like your physique, your wounded mind will heal.

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Reading bike books…

Reading bike books…

So I’ve been reading bike books. Yep, my inner bike geek is showing. I recently bought “Bikenomics” by Elly Blue. It’s about how bicycling can make a huge difference in the economy…now there’s a surprise! From the title, you might have suspected…what? But that book will be the subject of another post. I’ll just say this now. Get it. Read it. Pay attention.

This short post will be on another book about bike riding, bikes, eating, fear, “bike culture,” etc. In other words, random musings. It’s called “Bike Snob: Systematically and Mercilessly Realigning the World of Cycling,” by the guy who calls himself Bike Snob NYC. It’s a lot of fun, and occasionally led me to chuckle while on a plane today (thankfully, my seatmates didn’t ask that I be held for questioning when we disembarked). You should get this one, too.

There were multiple occasions of chuckling between Houston and Phoenix. But the book has some serious stuff, too. Sort of. Here’s what made me actually pull out the computer and start writing:

“Don’t worry, you’re not turning into a brain-dead, zombie-like sleeping and eating machine. If anything, you were probably a brain-dead, zombie-like sleeping and eating machine before you became a cyclist. Really, what cycling is doing is burning the fat off of your life as well as your body.” (page 169)

I’ll just let you ponder that for a while.

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The hills are alive…

The hills are alive…

“[Motorists] do not understand speed the same way we do. They know it only from the seat of a car, so they have no idea of the force and finesse required to propel a person on a bicycle at twenty miles per hour, let alone twenty-five, thirty, thirty-five – or the inhumane forty-plus hit by the great sprinters and trackies. Real people might remember from a physics class that wind speed increases exponentially rather than linearly with speed, but they have never been taught this by having the wind punch them in the face then swirl down their bodies and settle around their legs like concrete. Their loss.”

Bill Strickland, The Quotable Cyclist

Their loss, indeed. I have heard many bicycle riders say that they love to ride their bikes, but that they really don’t enjoy riding on hills. Why not? For many, it’s probably that they find the climb uncomfortable, or just too much work. Sure, it seems like there’s less work involved when riding flat roads or trails. The thing I don’t like about riding flats is that I have to keep pedaling! I never get a break. If I stop pedaling, I fall down…But seriously, there’s never a break. Hills provide the wonderful feeling of coasting freely, and even accelerating, down the road/trail, relying only on gravity to propel you faster and faster towards your destination.

Riding a bicycle also changes your perception – that road that you thought was flat turns out to be undulating, rolling up and down in small, but real cycles of ascent and descent. Unless you ride only on towpaths and rails-to-trails conversions, you will face hills…small though they may be. You know it is so because your legs tell you it is so.

To my mind, the joy of descending more than makes up for the work of ascending. Yes, it can be hard. But it’s worth every moment. Your legs become stronger every time you do it. You heart beats faster to bring oxygen and nutrients to the tiring leg muscles. Your lungs work harder to bring in even more breath. And then the joy of the descent! About as close to flying as one can get.

I miss the hills.

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Awareness

Awareness

“The world lies right beyond the handlebars of any bicycle.”

Daniel Behrman, The Man Who Loved Bicycles

Yes, it does. In one of my League of American Bicyclists courses, we do an entry exercise that includes the question, “What is the one word that describes what learning to ride a bike meant to you?” The most-often given answer is, “Freedom.” And that’s one way to read the meaning of this quote. Learning to ride a bicycle gave a sense of freedom, a sense that the world opened up beyond the home in which we were growing up. Everything was possible.

As we grew, many of us gave up on the bike. We learned to drive a car, so we put away the “things of a child.” Never looking back, never again thinking about the sheer joy of something as simple as a bike ride.

But wait, there’s more. The bicycle is another way to get from Point A to Point B. For most people, nothing between those two points is important. But, let’s think back to geometry class. There are an infinite number of points between A and B. But while driving in a car you will hardly notice any of them. That big metal box becomes a cocoon, insulating you from the world outside. There are few sights that can be appreciated as you speed past them. There are virtually no scents to be appreciated, as the hermetically sealed compartment’s ventilation system filters and recirculates the air. There is no sound except the radio blasting out the hits, the news, or what have you.

But the bicycle gives a unique perspective. At its fastest (for most riders), it just approaches the minimum speeds used by motorists as they go by, oblivious to their surroundings.

But the bicyclist’s view of the world is different. He is in the moment instead of protected from it. She sees the road in a different, kinesthetic way. He feels the terrain, having to pedal just a bit harder during that slight undulation of the road. At those lower speeds, and since there is no power other than human power, the bicyclist is more involved when going from one place to another.

And, “Oh, that amazing scent! Which of the trees/bushes around me is announcing its presence?”

“Doesn’t that breeze feel great?” she wonders.

“Wow, I hate it when the wind smacks me in the face. Wind is harder than hills…”

There’s a greater awareness, and maybe even appreciation, of the world around you when you’re on a bike.

Freedom. Awareness. Appreciation. Yes.

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It’s Too Late…

It’s Too Late…

I’ve heard that from several people, of all ages, and in various contexts. The subtext is, “I should have done it earlier in life; if I had done it then, I could do it well now.” Or maybe it’s, “But I’m too old to do that now.” But starting now, for whatever reason, is out of the question.

I recently saw an article from Sports Illustrated from 1970. Here is the gist of it: A Swedish newspaper offered a $1,000 prize to the winner of a bicycle race from the northernmost part of Sweden to the southern tip of the country. A 66-year-old man named Gustaf Hakansson decided to enter the race but did not qualify after a medical exam.

The race started without him. Regardless, he started behind the “official” riders on a heavy, old bike. Racers were required to stop and check in every night, and restart in the morning. But Gustaf was not in the race; he decided not to do that, and continued on. On about 7 hours of sleep over the course of the race, he led by more than 150 miles.

Eight hundred yards before the finish line, he had a flat tire. He continued anyway, and crossed the finish line 23 hours ahead of his nearest competitor. So a 66-year-old man deemed by doctors to be unable to compete raced, and won, against 50 much younger, much “fitter” men.

Message: Don’t pretend that you can’t. Whatever it is. Life’s too short to say, “I can’t” when you’re really saying, “I won’t.”

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