Friday, June 21, 2024

Health column: Coast into summer fitness with biking

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Cyclists get moving on the western edge of Craig as part of the Where the Hell’s Maybell? bike ride Saturday, May 4, 2024. According to Dr. Alex Meininger, there are many health benefits that can come from riding a bike.
Andy Bockelman/Craig Press

The familiar expression, “It’s like riding a bike,” is something that Dr. Alex Meininger takes to heart.

The physician practices what he preaches when it comes to extolling the health benefits of cycling, as he is an avid cyclist who is excited that warmer temperatures and drier roads means he and others can hit the trails on two wheels.

“I think it’s an excellent modality to help with the cardiovascular system,” said Meininger, an orthopedic surgeon in Steamboat Springs and a member of the medical staff at UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center. “It is low impact and doesn’t put as much pressure on joints as other activities such as jogging because it’s not weight bearing. Yet, it still raises the heart rate and is a good way to increase aerobic capacity.”

Why it’s good for you

Cycling helps burn calories and fat, gets blood pumping throughout your body and builds muscle because of the resistance element from pedaling. It also helps lower the body’s level of stress hormones such as adrenalin, while releasing “feel-good” hormones like endorphins, which stimulate relaxation and happiness.

“It’s exhilarating to get on your bike, set your own pace and feel the wind, the fresh air and the sunshine,” Meininger said. “It’s a great way to get outside, get exercise, and expend some mental and physical energy.”

Cycling reaches across all age groups as a lifetime sport, whether it’s youngsters on tricycles, competitive racers on road bikes, commuters on cruisers or electric bikes, or even a recumbent bike for those with back issues. People of all ages and abilities can find a bike to fit their budget and skill level.

“It provides the ‘Three Cs,’” said Meininger. “Whether you are looking for community, competition or to clear your head, you can find it.”

How to get started

Meininger said a proper bike “fit” is a must and might include a stop at the local bike shop to meet with an expert who can determine the best bike frame size, seat width and handlebar height. Brakes should be tuned up and tires inflated to the proper pressure indicated.

Next comes safety features, which are critical for all cyclists. When it comes to helmets, Meininger speaks from experience, as 20 years ago, he was hit by a car while biking. He credits his helmet for saving his life.

Other safety equipment he recommends — especially for riders sharing the road with cars — include:

  • Reflective tape on a bike.
  • Bright or reflective clothing.
  • Flashing lights on the front and back of bike.
  • Lights on the front and back of helmet.
  • A handlebar rearview mirror.
  • A bell, to notify others when passing.

Other safety tips to remember

Bikers should also understand how to use hand signals, know their route, take weather into consideration when planning their ride and have proper gear to stay warm and dry when weather changes quickly, as it often does in the Rockies.

Staying hydrated is also very important.

“It’s key to stay a step ahead in anticipating your hydration needs, especially on long rides on hot days,” said Meininger.

He advises diluting energy drinks to decrease the sugar level, and consuming one liter of liquid for every one to two hours of exercise.

Make sure to wear sunscreen on your face (even under your helmet) as well as your arms and legs. And leave your ear buds at home. Riders who listen to music impede their ability to hear traffic or other hazards. He adds that it defeats the experience of being in nature and the opportunity for self-reflection.

“There are very few activities that give you the sense of freedom with the wind hitting you and the Zen of the repetitive pedaling,” said Meininger. “It helps to process the day — you can leave stressors behind, use the time to solve problems and shift out of stress mode.”

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