Health Column: Biking is a good way to improve health

It’s biking season, and bike riding is an excellent cardiovascular activity that can also help you prevent cancer by getting at least 30 minutes of daily physical activity and staying at a healthy weight. For adults who have shied away from biking for years, take advantage of the warm weather to go out for a ride.

American Institute for Cancer Research fitness expert Mary Kennedy spoke with USA Triathlon certified coach Duncan Warden, who answered some of the most common questions about biking.

Q: I was thinking of starting biking. Is riding a bike a good exercise option?
A: Biking is a great workout option for a variety of reasons:
• It improves overall health. Like other aerobic activities, biking offers a host of health benefits, including reducing your risk of cancer, diabetes and other chronic diseases; reducing levels of stress; and improving sleep.
• It helps you achieve or maintain a healthy weight. Relative to other activities, biking burns a lot of calories. A 150-pound person will burn approximately 540 calories per hour biking at a moderate pace, 680 calories at a vigorous pace.
• It’s easy on the joints because it’s a low-impact activity. It doesn’t stress weight-bearing joints at the knees and ankles, making it a great option for people with arthritis or general joint pain. It’s also an excellent cross-training option for people who primarily participate in weight-bearing activities like running and want to give their joints a rest.
• It’s great for the environment. If you swap your car for your bike a few times each week — a trip to the post office, a visit to a friend or a commute into work — you will help improve both your personal health and the health of the environment.

Q: I haven’t biked since I was a kid. Is getting back on a bike really as easy as the saying goes?
A: While your body may always remember how to ride a bike, your skills are probably a little rusty. Coach Warden suggests a little practice before you head out on the open road. His advice is to go to a big empty parking lot to practice starting, stopping, shifting and turning skills. Once you have gained some confidence, look for a bike path or a quiet road with a nice, wide shoulder to continue your training.

Q: Do I need to buy an expensive bike or special equipment?
A: There are the three essential items you need to start biking: a helmet that fits your head properly; the right size bike so you’re able to control it; and a pair of bike shorts to make riding more comfortable. They’re padded, which helps your “seat” deal with the bike seat.
Coach Warden suggests going to a local bike shop for help selecting your equipment. If you’re buying a new bike, ask your sales person to show you how the shifting works, as it’s likely different from what you remember as a kid.

Q: Is there anything else I need to know?
A: No. Once you have the right equipment and skills, a bike workout follows the same rules as any other workout: warm up at a slower pace for the first few minutes, cool down for the last few minutes and push yourself at a moderate-to-vigorous pace in-between. And most importantly, have fun.

This column is provided by the American Institute for Cancer Research in Washington, D.C., which fosters research on the relationship of nutrition and physical fitness and weight management to cancer risk.