09 January 2008

Cycling and Your Wellbeing:

For about the last ten months I have used cycling as my primary form of transport. It’s a great thing to do for a whole heap of reasons. If I recall correctly I one day remembered that I’d been given a bicycle for my birthday and thought “I may as well use it!” At the time I only had a vague understanding of what I was really getting into. Now, after ten months, I have turned into a cycling advocate and feel the need to spread the word as everyone should know of the benefits of cycling. There are huge advantages, particularly when cycling is used as a form of transport. Allow me to clarify my claims…

We shall start with one of the most obvious benefits of cycling, exercise! Cycling is great for your health and fitness, both physically and mentally. If you commute by bike to work (or any regularly attended place) you in turn exercise on a regular basis. Exercise becomes easily intertwined with your day to day routine. Indeed for me personally cycling is more a form of transport than exercise. Many a day I have hoped onto my bike of a morning only to think: “Shit, I’m late for work, better pedal hard”. In comparison if I were to go for a run for the sole purpose of exercised I’d much more likely think: “Damn, I really don’t want to go for a run. Why can’t I do it later? It’s so hot… etc”. Clearly the commuting thought is much more productive as there is no direct quarrel in the mind with the act of cycling itself.

If exercise and transport are rolled into one you are much more likely to stick to your exercise routine, as it becomes so much more than just exercise, it becomes something with much more purpose behind it. Your motivation for cycling is to get to work, and with it you get the added bonus of staying fit! After you’ve gotten used to the initial changes of cycling to work it will seem far less an imposition. Indeed if anything you’ll most likely come to view it as a privilege, I know I do. By commuting to and from the city centre I now look forward to my cycling. I believe this may well be because of the added purpose given to the activity.

Essentially being fit and healthy is of immense importance to our overall wellbeing, so cycling helps this as a viable form of exercise. As the world is so preoccupied with weight and the obesity epidemic I should also note that if cycling becomes regular exercise and part of your routine (which will automatically happen if you become committed to commuting) it will also serve to manage your weight and keep your hormones and energy balance in check. I could go into mind numbingly complex detail as to why exercise is fantastic and has many benefits, but I’d get lost as there’s just so much to say. However feel free to have a look at “The Many Benefits of Exercise, Part 1:” for a general introduction to some of the many benefits of exercise.

One of the reasons cycling is so attractive and that I call it a “viable” form of exercise, is that it can easily be implemented into a busy schedule if is used for commuting. Almost all of us could do with a bit more exercise, and those of us fortunate enough to live and work in a small proximity (say within 10 kilometres or so) could quite feasibly ride to work and back each day. Indeed cycling is often faster than taking public transport or using a car (within the city this is)! I have written another article entitled: “How to Gain an Extra Week This Year:” which illustrates the time I would save over the course of a year if I cycled to and from work and uni, when compared to taking a car. Economic matters also come into play concerning how much extra someone would have to work per year to pay off a car rather than a bike, so check it out if you’re interested.

On the old economic front, cycling is obviously much cheaper than other forms of transport; particularly in the long term and it could greatly reduce your financial expenses. In another article "Pedalling Money – How to Save Money by Cycling:” I have demonstrated exactly how much cheaper cycling is. You may be rather surprised to see the difference, especially if you take into account ever rising petrol costs!

If you catch public transport you may be familiar (particular if you live in Sydney like me, where our public transport is poorly invested in) with crowded, dirty buses and old jam-packed trains. This too can be avoided by cycling. What’s worst however is late and unreliable public transport. I used to regularly wait for up to nearly half an hour for a bus or train (this is when going into the city or back home from it). In that same amount of time I could have quite literally ridden home! But these days I wait no longer! I only waited during my naïve younger years when I hadn’t even considered the possibility of riding a bicycle for transport reasons… I am convinced I must have been terribly sick back then to not have realised the benefits I could have gained by cycling. :P

Do you have to walk along way from your bus stop to home? You wouldn’t if you cycled. If you live far away from your work place, but there are trains, you might even consider mixing them. Particularly if you’re a few kilometres from the train station that takes you to and from work. The great thing about trains is that you can take bikes on them.

Cycling as a form of transport is also what is now often referred to as “green”. And “green” is now in. What once was hippy and rather borderline is now mainstream…well sort of anyway. Cycling doesn’t cause pollution (other than maybe the pollution in the making of a bicycle, but realise that this same process exists for all things produced in factories). The bicycle is also “The Most Efficient Form of Transport in the World:”! So cycling is clearly a good way to reduce damaging carbon emissions and create a sustainable future. Cycling would also use fewer resources (such as coal and metals etc) than other forms of transport. If everyone cycled we could even do with less infrastructure (smaller roads etc), which would again save on resources.

Lastly, and possibly most importantly, cycling will no doubt improve your general wellbeing. Yes, endorphins and feelings of wellbeing are a result of exercise, but it proves to be more than just this. Sydney University is providing a course in philosophy next year called “The philosophy of happiness” and in a sort of sneak preview my old philosophy lecturer told our class that for this course a large number of studies have been done. It’s explained further in "Cycling and the Philosophy of Happiness:” if you wish to know more, but for now you’ll have to be content to know that the studies suggested that commuting time is linked with long term happiness, and that as bike riding provides the double whammy of exercise with a typically short commuting time, it would seem to follow that it would promote long term happiness.

Let’s quickly summarise why cycling is the ultimate form of transport:
1) It will help to keep you healthy, keep your fitness levels up (and for those of us who are shallow, think about how it might help you manage your weight)
2) It is much cheaper than other forms of transport – It also allows you to avoid cramped, late, crappy and unreliable public transport (of course depending on where you are your public transport might be bearable so this wouldn’t count as much)
3) It is a time saver, in that you do your daily exercise (we’ll doctors keep saying we should be doing it daily, but most of us don’t!) at the same time as travelling, and overall end up gaining a bit more time each day than if you didn’t commute with a bike and still did the exercise. Sometimes (particularly in the city) it’s even quicker just to cycle than ride by car, regardless of exercise time even if the driver weren’t to compensate for the exercise the cyclist has done.
4) It is a sustainable form of transport that has little negative impact upon the world and is also a highly efficient form of transport.
5) Exercise has also been shown to be important for emotional wellbeing and happiness, and using your travel time more effectively could well also make you happier.

Some people will understandably voice concerns about the safety of commuting by bicycle. This is a valid argument, but one that is often blow out of proportion. The fact is that as cycling increases in popularity due to the move towards green transport and so on, and as numbers increase so too does bicycle infrastructure, bicycle safety equipment and awareness of cyclists by pedestrians and motor vehicles. The Sydney morning herald gives the example of a 50% increase in cyclists in Sydney over the last three years, with an almost non existent increase in injuries, which is pretty darned impressive. If you wish to see the link, clicky here: http://www.smh.com.au/news/national/bike-riders-on-the-increase-but-road-deaths-stable/2007/10/07/1191695739443.html

Like everything in life, just be sure to use your common sense when riding a bike. Always be sure to indicate, wear a helmet, gloves, sunglasses, a reflective vest and use reflector lights. When its dark also be sure to have proper electric lights. If you do all these simple things you greatly reduce your chance of being involved in an accident, and as the number of cyclists continue to increase, the percentage of overall accidents should continue to drop with the developments that follow the increased demand for cyclist infrastructure, equipment and awareness. So hop on your bike!

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