The Benefits of Bike Riding

woman riding a bikeWhen Carolyn Stafford's leg started hurting her, medical tests couldn't find a cause for the pain. Her doctor suggested that stress might be creating the problem.

At the time, Stafford was working a pressure-filled job in computer support. "I was constantly trying to solve people's problems," she says. "I had a lot of stress coming from that."

Since she enjoyed bicycling, Ms. Stafford decided to see if riding her bike to and from her job would help. She rode five miles each way. "It worked wonders. If it was a frustrating day, I'd get on that bike and I hammered coming home!" she says.

The effects of daily cycling were so beneficial for the Dallastown, PA, woman that when her employer temporarily moved the office nearly 10 miles from her home, she kept on riding. Her coworkers couldn't believe that Ms. Stafford, then in her early 50s, was going to continue the bike commute. She did—and when the office moved back to its original location, she adjusted her route so that she could still ride almost 10 miles each way. In winter, Ms. Stafford put studded snow tires on her bike and dressed in layers.

When she retired two-and-a-half years later, she continued her commitment to biking every day. She uses her bike instead of her car when she needs to travel into nearby York (eight miles from her home) for a haircut or a doctor's appointment or to go to the bank, post office or other errands.

Last year, Ms. Stafford rode 10,400 miles on her bicycle and drove her car a mere 3,000 miles. "I only use my car if I have to go someplace quickly, or if I'm taking people," she says.

Biking benefits

You don't have to log thousands of miles to gain rewards from riding your bike more and driving your car less. Regardless of whether you're on a fancy new two-wheeler or the battered old reliable you bought years ago, bike riding gives you a terrific workout with lots of interest and fun to keep you going. And with U.S. gasoline prices running higher than $3 per gallon, using a bicycle for shopping, commuting, visiting friends or just taking a joy ride may help your financial health at the same time it boosts your physical condition.

Bike riding lets you add a fitness activity into your day even when you think you don't have time for a workout. "You get the same cardiovascular benefits from cycling that you get from any other form of aerobic exercise—walking, jogging or dancing," says Lisa Callahan, MD, medical director of the Women's Sports Medical Center at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City. "It can be a very effective cardiovascular benefit."