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Fresh Air, Open Spaces: All This and You Get a Good Workout, Too?

March 20, 1994|KATHLEEN RYAN

A aaaah . . . the wind on your face, as the sounds of whirling spokes soothe your soul.

There's nothing quite like the refreshing tranquillity of bicycling. Few exercises offer more variety with such mobility. Hard to believe you get all this, plus an excellent workout.

"It is clearly one of the best exercises available for aerobic training," says Jeanne Earley, a cycling enthusiast and physical therapist at Barnes Hospital in St. Louis. "Over an extended period of time, cycling trains the heart and lungs to become more efficient with the fuel they receive."

It's no wonder patients recovering from heart attacks are often put on a cycling regime. Studies show that biking at least three times a week for 30 minutes strengthens and protects the heart.

Biking "is a good exercise for a lot of different types of people," says Dennis O'Connell, exercise physiologist and director of the Human Performance Laboratory at the Health Science Center of the University of Texas, San Antonio. "People with orthopedic problems or osteoporosis, elderly people, people with diabetes, and (people) who are overweight. It's an excellent mode of exercise because it's non-weight-bearing."

Biking--which burns 400 to 700 calories an hour--is also great for legs, which hold 65% of the body's main muscle mass.

In addition, a recent study conducted at the University of Vermont found that longer workouts at lower intensities burn more fat.

Bicycling is also a favorite among physical therapists. "We use the exercise bike a lot to increase a patient's range of motion," Earley says. "Cycling is a great way to restore flexibility in patients who have flexibility problems."

And a good cycle is also good for the joints.

It's "a less stressful exercise for the body and a perfect way for joints to get the oxygen and nutrients they need to function," Earley says.

Just like any exercise, though, good form is imperative to getting the maximum benefit and avoiding injury. "Keep your body aligned so muscles are working in the positions they were meant to," Earley says.

For less stressful biking, use higher gears going down hills and in tail winds, and lower gears going up hills and on level ground. Pace yourself and restore your energy not only physically, but by shifting gears mentally, too.

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