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Bicycling To Better Health

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Bicycling To Better Health

Itâ??s never too late-in the year or in your life-to start cycling. Itâ??s one of the safest and best cardiovascular exercises.

It’s never too late-in the year or in your life–to start cycling. It’s one of the safest and best cardiovascular exercises.

In a study of sedentary but healthy men and women aged 60 to 71, the Washington University School of Medicine concluded that a one-year exercise program of walking, jogging or cycling (for about one hour, four times a week) resulted in "a rate of improvement that is roughly equivalent to that seen in similar studies of younger subjects."

As bicycling becomes a part of your "new, improved routine," you may take consolation in the realization that you are not experiencing the same intense pounding to your knees that you do when jogging.

You may even have a tinge of nostalgia as you reflect upon recapturing, in a unique way, childhood feelings of freedom and excitement that you once associated with racing down the street on that sleek bike of yours. You’re back on a bicycle–and you’re enjoying it!

If you have been a professional couch potato for some time, then ease into a training schedule. Don’t just leap onto your old bicycle and try to ride "a century" (100 kilometres or miles) the very first day. Build up some cycling miles gradually. Get into a regular routine. Then slowly add time and distance. Give those rusty joints a chance to get acclimatized. Give your motor time to warm up before you put the metal to the floor, so to speak! As with any endurance sport, it’s best to start easy and build up slowly. Riding short distances regularly will maintain this new-found level of conditioning.

Serious Power

For the serious cyclist and the exercise addict, there are ways to increase the quality of your workout. Endurance training is primarily achieved by simply dedicating more time to the seat of your bicycle. Strength training (lifting weights) enhances the cyclist’s conditioning program. Working the back, for example, can prevent back injuries that may be associated with long periods of sustained riding. Strenuous hill climbs are aided by strength training of the legs and shoulders. Cyclists typically have stronger quads than hamstrings, so the weight training can help to address this discrepancy.

Increased power is derived partly through the building of muscle tissue via weight training, but speed intervals are also integral to the overall improvement levels of the well-conditioned cyclist. Therefore, brief but intense workouts are also relevant and rewarding. For these sessions, you should focus on high-resistance, fast-cadence workouts with intervals of 30 seconds to three minutes. Follow these with recovery periods where you cycle at a leisurely pace. Always be properly warmed up before beginning a highly intense period of interval training. Eventually work toward the goal of maintaining the hard pedaling for the full three minutes and your heart rate at 80–90 percent of its maximum level.

If you’re a cyclist who lives in an area where large drifts of snow are a serious deterrent to year-round outdoor riding, then an indoor trainer is an excellent aid for maintaining a certain level of "cycling shape." If you can afford it, you can even buy computerized models that display heart rate and cadence or even program the desired distance, headwind and elevation change for your simulated cycling trip!

If you are simply bicycling to better health, then some of these training aids are unnecessary and expensive extras, like getting those power windows and door locks on your new car.

However, just as that new car will need gas and oil to run, you will need fluids and food to train properly. Always eat a balanced meal before any long ride. It’s also important to carry food and drink with you on your cycling trip, as they’re both essential to strong performance. Take such high-octane foods as bananas, trail mix or energy bars with you. A couple of water bottles attached to your bicycle are absolutely necessary, as dehydration must be avoided. You may even decide to invest in a water bladder, worn like a backpack, with a hose that hangs over your shoulder, allowing you to drink as you ride!

If you begin to dehydrate, your heart has to pump faster to compensate and you’re therefore no longer riding at an optimum level. You must keep up your fluid level, so drink regularly (and never wait until you actually feel thirsty). After your ride immediately consume carbohydrates to help replenish glycogen stores. This is vital.

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