Path to health is best taken on two wheels

Reprinted from the Everett Herald:

Last Sunday my wife and three friends and I decided to bicycle up to Snohomish from Seattle. We had a great ride north, finishing with a swooping downhill on the Springhetti Road, past Harvey Airfield, and stopping at the Snohomish Pie Company for a few delicious slices of pie.

That in itself was worth the trip. I had marionberry, and tried to poach some bites of the peach, apple crumb, and rhubarb as well. We came back along the Snohomish River, appreciating the farms and forests along the way (and, incidentally, the growth management act that prevents unmitigated sprawl) until we had to make the long slog up the Woodinville-Duvall Road back toward Seattle. We went longer than we had planned, and ended up good and tired for the evening. But what could be a better thing to do on a beautiful June Sunday?

This bicycling thing is not just about long weekend rides. What is more important for our health and our climate is to make bicycling part of our normal way of life in getting around to work, to school, and to do errands. In King County the Cascade Bicycle Club and Group Health have just concluded the May Commuter Challenge, with more than 10,000 participants logging more than 1 million miles on their bikes.

In Snohomish County, Community Transit’s and Group Health’s Bike Commute Challenge runs through Friday, so there’s still time to join in. Already 819 participants have logged over 85,000 miles in over 11,000 trips. They are closing in on the 2008 record of 102,000 miles biked. They have already eclipsed 2007’s totals for participants, trips and miles biked. For more information go to www.communitytransit.org/Programs/BikeToWork.cfm.

Bicycling to work can be daunting, if you let it. But think about taking this in chunks. Maybe you drive to a park and ride and take the bus. Try riding a bicycle to the bus. A lot of people are doing this. Community Transit now reports 100,000 bike boardings on its buses annually. Want to go to the local coffee shop? Get on your bike. That way you can enjoy the iced mocha and burn a few calories! But be careful and wear a helmet. Last weekend a dog ran out in front of a friend. My friend toppled over and scraped some skin. But his head is fine — he was wearing a helmet.

You don’t need a fancy bike. Dig out that 10-year-old bicycle that’s been gathering dust in the basement.

In the past decade, our local governments have made a big effort to connect the dots for bicycling. In Snohomish County, you can download maps of the best bicycle routes at www.commtrans.org/FAQs/BikeMaps.cfm. There are some great paths, for long and scenic weekend trips, like the Centennial Trail, or for getting around in the urban and suburban sprawl, like the Interurban Trail. That trail directly connects to the Lynnwood Transit Center and the Mariner Park-and-Ride.

The good news is that 20 percent of Washingtonians rode bicycles in 2001. The bad news is that only 1.6 percent of U.S. commuters bicycle to work. Not surprisingly, cars and trucks in our country consume 10 percent of the world’s oil supply. That’s just not sustainable. With volatile and increasing gas prices, our dependence on the automobile is not sustainable for the family budget. Our health while we sit in our cars or just watch things is also not sustainable. After tobacco usage, the leading cause of death is inactivity and sedentary lifestyles. Bicycling can solve all these problems at once.

Don’t get put off by the bicyclists whizzing by in their spandex body suits with garish colors and advertisements. I plead guilty to that, occasionally. But you can also get on your bicycle with street clothes and a helmet, bicycle at a leisurely pace, and start work refreshed. You don’t need to start out svelte. (Indeed, with those spandex shorts and shirts, we often see a little too much of people’s physiques.) New bicycle commuters, on average, can expect to lose 13 pounds their first year of bicycle commuting. A 150-pound cyclist is estimated to burn up 410 calories while pedaling 12 miles in an hour. That’s something to keep in mind when you’re pedaling along, especially on the uphills!

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Posted in A Fair Deal at Work, Column, Health Care

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