by Jessica Remitz
Whether you’re looking for a new class at the gym or hoping to take advantage of the great outdoors this spring, cycling is a great activity to add to your fitness routine. In honor of National Bike Week, here are just a few ways cycling can improve your health, as well as tips for starting a cycling routine and a few routes to try.
Health Benefits of Biking
In addition to being an easy and efficient way to get to and from work, biking has health benefits for your heart, waistline and joints. Taking a long, fast-paced ride or signing up for an indoor cycling class will torch calories and build strength while improving your aerobic and anaerobic capacity, said Danielle Hopkins, group fitness manager and indoor cycling instructor at Equinox. Increasing your aerobic and anaerobic capacity will help whittle your waistline and improve your cardiovascular health, which help keeps your risk for heart disease down.
Because cycling is primarily a non-weight bearing activity, it reduces the amount of stress on your joints and helps keep wear and tear on the body at a minimum, Hopkins said. Riding a bike also helps to tone and build lower body muscles while remaining a low-impact form of exercise—an important part of your fitness routine if you’ve sustained a hip or leg injury.
Starting a Routine and Where to Ride
As with any new activity, there may be an initial learning curve as your body adapts to being challenged in a new way, Hopkins said, but the nice thing about biking is that you can set your own pace and intensity both out and indoors. “Indoors, keep the resistance a little lower [on your bike],” she said. “Outdoors, pick a shorter course with fewer hills and watch for a measurable improvement as you add time and distance on the bike.”
If you start with an indoor class, be sure to get there early and have the instructor help you get set up on the bike, Hopkins said. Maneuvering a bike outdoors is a little bit more difficult, with traffic, other cyclists and changing terrain to contend with. Your best bet? Start slowly, take your time to learn how to work your gears and brakes and be aware of your surroundings, Hopkins said. Joining a local cycling group, like New York City’s Terrier Tri or Team Lipstick, can help teach you the necessary skills and organize team rides depending on your skill level.
If you’re ready to hit the road, be sure to take a look at a few of these great rides across the country:
- Cape Cod Rail Trail, Mass.—this 22-mile, paved trail winds its way through six towns along the cape, with plenty of places to make stops at the beach along your route.
- Central Park, N.Y.—providing both flat and hillier terrain, New York’s Central Park several long distance routes circling the perimeter of the park or shorter distance rides as you cross the park.
- Portland, Ore.—this commuter-friendly city has some of the best outdoor biking in the country, Hopkins said. Find routes and get cycling-related news on the city’s bike blog .
- Prairie Spirit Trail, Kan.—this 51-mile path is great for mountain or hybrid bikes and winds through small towns and prairies, all on a well-groomed limestone trail.
- Arkansas River Trail, Ark.—the river trail system winds through Little Rock, connecting 38 parks, six museums and over 5,000 acres of park. Great for beginners, the route is primarily flat.
- Mount Tamalpais, Calif.—great for mountain bikers looking for a challenge, this state park has more than 50 miles of trail that also connects to a larger, 200-mile trail system.
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