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Biking for Health and Wellness

Updated: Aug 10, 2023

Submitted by Board Member Karen Walker

Bicycling is an activity that many of us started when we were young, experiencing the independence of riding your two wheeled bicycle and exploring your neighborhood and beyond. Bike riding can extend into adulthood with many opportunities to ride on the roads and trails available in our community.


Biking has many physical and mental benefits including improvements in strength, balance, circulation, energy, and mood. Biking may increase muscle strength in the core/trunk, hips, quads (front of the thigh), hamstrings (back of the thigh), and calves. Pro tip: the hamstrings are challenged to a greater degree when using footwear that clips onto the pedals.

Strengthening of muscle occurs due to the stroke of the pedal and added resistance available by choosing different gears and when biking up hills. The core/trunk muscles function to stabilize the rider in the seat and maintain the trunk position, depending on the type of cycle being ridden (road, mountain, gravel, recumbent, etc).

Balance is required to remain upright (on two wheels!), maintain a sitting position, adjust to varied terrain/riding surfaces, and lean and make turns. The movement of riding requires proprioception which is the ability to sense the position of your body in space and respond to changes in position which also promotes balance.

Biking can improve your aerobic/cardiovascular fitness by increasing heart rate and blood volume which assists in delivering more oxygen and nutrients to the body. Heart rate increases (while biking) which aids in increased blood being pumped, which in turn helps prevent hardening of the arteries and impacts both heart health and cholesterol management. Long term adaptations to aerobic activities such as biking may include decreases in both resting heart rate and blood pressure.

Biking is considered a low impact exercise which can benefit those with hip, knee, or foot concerns as it is not considered weight bearing. For those who don’t tolerate walking or running due to lower extremity arthritis or painful conditions, biking may be a good alternative! Many people can bike for much longer than they can walk for exercise.


Weight management is another potential benefit of biking as prolonged aerobic activity is great for burning calories. Increasing the intensity by riding hills and winding roads will burn more calories!


Energy and mood may be elevated when biking. Research shows that moderate-intensity exercise increases energy. Enjoying the beauty of your surroundings on a rails-to-trails or wooded path will certainly elevate your mood. Biking can be a stress reducer as it requires focus and attention to the task while enjoying the environment and biking with friends.

There are many types of bicycles (road, gravel, mountain) to consider based on your path/trail surface and interests. Recommended equipment and clothing include a helmet for protection, padded gloves, bike shorts/pants, a water bottle, a tire patch kit/tire pump, a basic first aid kit, and a cell phone.


Michigan Trails Magazine (https://mitrails.org) has a comprehensive description of bicycle trails and events. There are several bicycle trails located near Lowell. One combination of trails is the Fred Meijer Valley Rail Trail and the Fred Meijer Clinton-Ionia-Shiawassee Rail Trail which run through towns, along the Grand River, the Ionia State Recreation Area, and connects east of Ionia. These linked trails continue to run between Saranac and Owosso.


Three other trails that are linked include: The Fred Meijer Heartland Trail (runs from Alma to Greenville), The Fred Meijer Flat River Valley Rail Trail which begins in Greenville and ends in Lowell. The third trail is the Lowell Area Trailway that links the Fred Meijer Flat River Valley in Lowell to the Wittnebach/Wege Agriculture and Environmental Education Center. The surface of these trails is asphalt pavement or finely screened and compacted crushed limestone so a wider tire is recommended.


Take advantage of the comfortable summer weather and go outside, explore local trails, and enjoy bicycling for your health and recreation.


References:

Bain L. (April 28, 2003). Eight benefits of cycling for your body and mind, Good Housekeeping, New York City, New York.

National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 1200 New Jersey Avenue, SE, Washington, D.C. 20590

Michigan Trails Magazine 2023, Rockford Advertising, 128 Courtland St, Rockford, MI 49341

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