I wrote about this a while back, but here's a video I made about how riding a bike can improve your memory. I hope you enjoy it.
On a bike trip in Colorado, I got my butt handed to me on a Frisbee by guys who were 15 years older than me.
I blamed it on the altitude. And it's true that after a few days I could almost keep up with them. At least close enough that they mostly stopped making fun of me.
This was my introduction to middle age. I thought I was in great shape, but really I've been turning into a bike potato.
For years I scorned people who deliberately trained. "Just get on your bike and ride," I thought.
I also avoided any talk about racing. I'm all about bike touring, not racing.
Now I've done a bit of reading, and I learned the shocking truth: Bike touring can be an emasculating, power-sapping habit. It can turn your strong, youthful body into a flaccid meat suit.
A physical therapist told me I should never do another bike tour again after the age of 40. I will not be following his advice.
If you're a stubborn fanatic like me, and you insist on bike touring, here are the dangers and how to reverse them.
Danger #1: Repetitive Stress Syndrome
If you take a short bike ride that lasts a few hours, you're going to gain a lot of physical benefits. Bike touring is different.
On a bike tour, you're in the saddle for hours on end. Probably six hours or more. Maybe 10 or 12 if you're a fanatic. I've done this on bike tours of Italy.
During that time, your back and shoulder muscles are straining to hold up your head. Your arms are locked on to the handlebars. Your knees are grinding along, over and over, with continuous pressure on the exact same spot.
In a more natural activity, you would be moving around a lot, using different muscles in different ways, shifting your weight around onto different joints, and generally stimulating and using most of your body.
On a bike tour, you're concentrating all the effort and all the strain. Many muscles are cramped far inside their normal range of motion. Other muscles aren't used at all.
Danger #2: Depletion of Your Reserves
You have a limited amount of glycogen stored in your muscles and your liver. On an extended bike tour, you may not have time for your muscles to recover. Your glycogen may be used up without sufficient time to replace it.
When this happens, you might start burning protein instead. Keep this up for too long, and you can end up with a loss of muscle mass.
You may have noticed the skinny leg syndrome that some people have on a bike tour. Over time, you'll lose power and stamina because of the loss of muscle.
Danger #3: Inertia
If you're on a bike tour, you're probably trying to cover a lot of ground each day, and you'll likely have an interest in conserving your energy.
You're probably also thinking of the bike tour as a vacation, which means you'll be more relaxed.
These two factors have a tendency to make you ride more slowly. The problem is, you're essentially training yourself to ride slowly. A slow rider tends to get slower.
One of the most useful and practical bits of advice I've found is from Roy M. Wallack in his book, Bike for Life: How to Ride to 100--and Beyond. (see below) He suggests taking shorter tours.
This is great advice for many reasons. First, it minimizes the damage of the three dangers. If you're only touring for 3 days, a lot of the problems with bike touring simply won't have time to develop. It's also useful against the mental and psychological damage that bike touring can inflict.
Short tours are also more practical. You can fit them into a busy life. Do a weekend bike tour, and you won't have to miss work.
Better yet, you can turn a long tour into several short ones. For example, when I bike the via Appia next time, my plan is to ride for a day or two, then stop in one place and take a few days to really explore, talk to the locals, and have a learning/cultural experience while my body recovers.
One of my dreams is to tour around the entire Mediterranean sea. Realistically, my wallet and the geopolitical situation won't allow it. But maybe I'll reach my goal over several years, one country at a time. Turns out this will be good for my health, too.
Another way to defend yourself from the ravages of bike touring is to tour the way you train. Alternate long tours with short tours. Have days when you ride as fact as you can, or at least include sprints into part of your journey. Make a conscious decision whether to attack a hill all-out or to merely endure it.
Finally, add some cross training into the tour. Stop for a day and go hiking. If you're strapped for time, just do a bunch of push-ups in the morning, or take a 20-minute yoga break when you find a good spot along the route.
A bit of thoughtfulness will let you reap all the benefits of bike touring while avoiding the dangers. You may even finish the tour feeling fresh and invigorated.
Mentioned in this post:
This is meant for all you brave urban bicycle commuters, who expose yourself to the hazards of city traffic at the worst times of the day. But it also applies to anyone who rides their bike in an urban environment.
There is a simple way to protect yourself (besides wearing a mask, which could help you too) from the worst effects of automobile exhaust. And you should take this seriously.
According to the American Lung Association, exposure to air pollution is one of the major risk factors for Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), secondary only to smoking cigarettes.
COPD may not kill you for years, but it will sap your strength, crush your ability to work and play, and basically suck all the joy out of your life.
It's ironic (and sad) that by making a noble effort to improve the overall air quality, you expose yourself to the worst air pollution. But you can help minimize the problem by using a simple math formula to your advantage.
We're talking about the inverse square law, for you math people. What this means is that if you can double your distance from the tailpipe of an automobile, you're only exposed to one fourth of the pollutants. If you triple the distance, you're only exposed to one ninth. Get four times as far, and only a feeble sixteenth of those toxic fumes will ever have a chance of reaching your lungs.
There's an easy way to ride your bike far enough from commuting cars that you can cut out 50%, 90% or even more of the pollutants you would have been exposed to. Every city or town has busy streets that are jammed during rush hour traffic. These are usually the most direct routes, but you don't need to ride your bike on them.
Just find a parallel residential street (or if you're downtown, try to pick a route that runs through parks and alleys), and only ride on the main streets when you need to.
This could add a little bit of time to your commute, but the benefits of biking this way will add to your lifespan.
Disclaimer: I am not trained in medicine, and this information is not intended to diagnose, treat, prevent or cure any disease. Always consult with a physician before participation in any physical activity.
This blog is not in any way affiliated with the American Lung Association. All opinions stated here are my own, and do not reflect the views of the American Lung Association.
Some days I feel like a centaur. If I'm cut off too long from my better half (that's the bicycle) I'm stuck--immobile and mutilated until I can get two wheels firmly underneath me again.
Last night we did some unusual exercises during a taijutsu class outdoors in exceptionally cold weather. I wrenched the muscles in my back, and the pain slowly creeped up on me as the evening wore on. By dinner I was in agony, by bedtime I was groaning in pain. I woke up several times at night, painfully heaving myself around to find a position that didn't hurt.
This morning I could barely lift a coffee cup to my lips.
Excused from work, I spent a few hours this morning experimenting with yoga and tai chi to figure out how bad the damage really was, and what I could and couldn't do.
By noon I could walk if I was careful not to lean too far in the wrong direction. I could lift a decent amount of weight if I paid attention to my posture. It was time for a bike ride.
I think you can guess what happened next, especially if this has ever happened to you. I'm completely healed, free of pain, back to full mobility.
Chalk it up to circulation, the benefits of bike exercise, gently working the muscles of your lower back by pedaling. Maybe it's the magic of just going out and doing what you really love and want.
The truth is we're resilient creatures. I think a lot of suffering comes out of our own minds. The best thing you can do is break out of the rut you're in, change your environment, assert your freedom to go where you want on your own power.
Get out on your bike and ride.
This morning I got stuck behind a bus during my bike commute. It felt like I was sucking air right out of the exhaust pipe. But this usually doesn't happen, because I have tactics I use to keep my lungs safe most of the time. If you ride your bike in a polluted urban environment like Los Angeles, there's really a lot you can do to minimize the smog you breathe in.
First, if you have the option, you can cut your exposure to pollution by 10-30% just by riding in off-peak hours. The best time is early in the morning, before rush hour. Next best would be midday, or late at night.
If you're not commuting by bike, and you just like to ride for the fun of it, be a weekend warrior. Ride your bike on the days when there are fewer cars on the road.
If you commute to work, and have to ride your bike during rush hour, you can save your lungs by taking alternate routes.
Almost every busy street has other streets running parallel to it, and the traffic on these other streets can be a lot lower. If you can get just 50 feet away from the heaviest traffic, you can make a dramatic cut in the amount of pollution you breathe in.
In fact, a Danish study found that when you bike on streets with low traffic volume, you can reduce your exposure to pollution by 50% to 60% or even more.
And when you think about it, you'll have a safer, more quiet ride. Also more scenic. You're more likely to pass parks and gardens. You won't have to worry as much about being hit.
If you commute by bike, there might be stretches where you have to be on the busiest roads, but probably not for the entire route. Anything you can do to reduce the time you spend riding in traffic will pay off.
There will be more stop signs, and you might add an extra 10 minutes onto your journey. But you could also add years to your life.