Most people know the benefits of regular daily physical activity. In fact, the Surgeon General says that as little as 30 minutes of brisk walking or cycling a day is enough to improve your energy level and mood, aid with weight loss, and reduce your risk for a host of chronic afflictions and an early demise. But how do you make physical activity a habit that will stick? A start is to set reasonable goals, build gradually, and keep your activity fun. The following are some easy ways you can incorporate physical activity into your daily routine:
- Bike one daily trip for which you'd normally drive the car.
- Get a cycling buddy or take a family ride after dinner.
- Bike with a child to school or participate in a Walk to School Day event.
- Ride through your neighborhood and rate it's "bikeability."
- Keep a daily activity log. Estimate the mileage you biked or the minutes you spent doing something active.
- Join a cycling club or form a cycling group with a regular schedule. There is encouragement in numbers.
Bicycling for Beginners
If it's been too long since you've ridden your bicycle last, now's the time to dust off your bicycle and get back in the saddle. Here are a few tips to save some embarrassment and to keep you safe!
- Get Your Bicycle Checked Out—Take your bicycle to your local bicycle shop and get a tune-up. Your bike is a wonderfully simple and efficient machine, but needs some TLC-and you don't want to break down your first time out. Most bike dealers have specials to check the essentials (brakes, gears, tires, etc.) and squirt oil in all the right places.
- Get Yourself Checked Out—If you really haven't ridden in a long time, it might be wise to check in with your doctor and see if there's any reason you shouldn't be saddling up and going for a spin. Bicycling is such a great way to get the recommended daily dose of exercise that chances are your doctor will encourage you to go for it. Don't try and ride 50 miles straight away; take it slowly and you'll enjoy the ride and still be able to walk again the next day.
- Deck Yourself Out with the Latest Gear—Simplicity is certainly one of the attractions of bicycling-you can just hop on your bike and start riding. But, there's also a lot of equipment available to make your ride safer and more comfortable. Things have come a long way since the days of the wool cycling shorts...for example:
- A wide variety of helmets are available in different styles and price ranges. Your local bike dealer will help you get the right size and fit.
- A sturdy lock is essential if you're planning on riding your bike and leaving it somewhere for awhile.
- Front and rear lights and reflectors are required, and make good sense, if you're going to be riding at night or dusk
- Padded shorts, gloves and other special clothing will make longer rides more comfortable, but probably aren't necessary for riding to the video store and back.
- Find a Safe Place to Practice—Again, if you really haven't ridden in a long time, it makes sense to regain your confidence on the bike and practice somewhere safe as opposed to on the main road to work. Find a quiet street, trail, playground, or empty parking lot and get back in touch with your bike handling skills. Practice looking behind you, making turns, stopping suddenly, dodging rocks or potholes, changing gears, and even getting on and off. If you are using toe clips or clipless pedals, take a few extra minutes to remind yourself how to get your feet out in a hurry!
- Follow the Rules of the Road—When you're ready to hit the road or trail, remembering a few basic safety rules will help you avoid the most common mistakes that cause crashes.
- Have Fun—Bicycling is fun, healthy, safe, convenient, and by riding you are setting a great example for others. So above all have a great time riding. Communities across the United States celebrate National Bike Month and other bicycle related events and activities, so find out what's going on in your community, and have a great ride.
- Choose "internal" rather than "external" goals—Focus on things that matter to you, not to others. So don't try to drop a dress size by your class reunion so others will be impressed. Instead try to bike 20 minutes five days a week so you wake up feeling better each morning.
- Focus on an enjoyable process, not a specific outcome—If your goal is to lose 30 pounds, you can end up (wrongly) disappointed if you only lose 28! But maintaining a streak of 30 days where you've biked or walked for at least 10 minutes will leave you feeling better on every one of those days.
- Have both short and long term goals—For example, short term is planning to bicycle 12 out of the next 14 or 50 out of the next 60 days; long term is trying to cycle 600 or 1,000 miles this year.
- Tell others about your goal—They're sure to ask how you're doing and thus help keep you on track; they may even start exercising with you.
- Plan real rewards for meeting your goals—Don't use food, and choose things of substance you'll look forward to. Earn yourself a new workout jacket, a concert, even a bicycling vacation.
- Keep an exercise log or diary—It'll help you see your progress and keep your goal in mind, and is proven to keep exercisers on track.
- Sign up for an event—Committing to cycle in a long fundraising or other event will help you build on your exercise. Pick a fun location for the event (say, Bermuda or Hawaii) and make it even become part of your reward!
- Join an organized or informal club or a team—For bigger goals, this can really help you learn to train properly and keep you motivated.
For additional advice on planning a bicycling/fitness program, here are eight tips from Mark Fenton, author of "The Complete Guide to Walking for Health, Weight Loss, and Fitness," on setting and reaching your goals: