WELLNESS
10/16/2014 07:25 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Riding A Bike Every Day Will Change Your Life For The Better

Tobias Ackeborn via Getty Images

Carly Schwartz is The Huffington Post's Deputy National Editor. This is her GPS Guide on her favorite way to live in the moment.

For 24 euphoric minutes every morning and every evening, I can fly.

In hipster solidarity with my fixie-riding neighbors, I make my daily commute from my house in Brooklyn to HuffPost's office in the East Village by bike. Gliding past dog-walkers and elementary school kids on my block, expertly weaving around delivery vans and taxis up First Avenue, breaking a sweat on the steady incline of the Williamsburg Bridge and then reveling at the wind in my face going down the other side, I'm invincible.

My daily rides are my form of meditation -- few other physical activities force me to so fully embrace the present and consider my surroundings. If I'm feeling sad or angry, I pedal until the city blurs past me and all I can feel is pavement. If I'm already in a good mood, five minutes on my bike and I may as well be a superhero. At the very least, every day I arrive to and from work more invigorated and grateful for what my body can accomplish.

I don't remember exactly when or how my cycling habit grew from a handful of casual weekend rides to my most sacred daily ritual, but now I can't imagine a world without two wheels. I've biked through the mountains and to beaches, into hidden corners of all five boroughs, up and down the Hudson and East rivers, alone, in pairs, in a flash mob of 200. In the City of a Thousand Things, it's comforting to know that whatever I need is nothing more than a bike ride away.

hudson biking

Riding along the Hudson River is one of life's greatest pleasures.

Experts are quick to tout the health benefits of biking: It boosts energy and fights fatigue, it's gentler on the joints than walking or running, it can help reduce the risk of heart disease and it's one of the most effective full-body workouts you can engage in. (Given my disdain for most forms of exercise, that last point is particularly compelling.) And while the barrier to entry is low -- pretty much all you need to know to start cycling is how to ride a bike itself -- people often ask me if I have any tips for beginner bikers.

Below, a few things I've learned along the way that help make for a safer and more joyful ride:

Follow the rules of the road. Brake at yellow lights, stop for pedestrians and maintain a solid distance from cars. Cyclists who push the limit -- flying through stop signs, tailgating, shouting at cars -- not only give bikers a bad rap, but tempt fate. "A bike rider is flesh, bones, tendons and skin against a two-ton S.U.V.," Timothy Egan noted rather morbidly in the New York Times. "What would be a fender-bender, scrap or brush between cars can be fatal to a cyclist." I think of that every time my friends tease me for being a bit of a bike wimp.

But don't let fear keep you off your bicycle seat. It's markedly safer to ride on a bike than in a car. In 2012, cyclists accounted for just 2 percent of all traffic-related deaths. While it's essential to remain cautious and aware, it's unfounded to let anxiety cloud your biking experience.

bike rain

Seriously, is there anything more beautiful?

Ignore those "you don't need a helmet" rumors. A British neurosurgeon recently made headlines when he claimed that wearing a bike helmet is actually more dangerous than traveling without one, but most research suggests otherwise. A full 98 percent of bike commuters own a helmet, so you'll be in good company, anyway.

Light up the night. Blinky lights are your best friend when it's dark or overcast. Just don't forget to take them off when you lock your bike up, as they’re an easy item for thieves to pocket.

Keep the air flowing. Riding with less-than-full tires is like trying to ice skate in sneakers: It's possible, but it's far less enjoyable. Invest in a good pump and make sure to learn where the best neighborhood bike shops are so you can fill in a pinch.

Make a playlist. Laws against riding with headphones vary from state to state, and it's never kosher to listen to music in more than one ear. But cruising around to a soundtrack can be an amazing feeling, so consider buying a wireless speaker you can mount on your frame. Then put together a list of your favorite tunes and get ready to feel like you can conquer the world.

williamsburg bridge

The Williamsburg Bridge is the ultimate commuter workout.

Know your rights. If you do end up getting into a collision, stay on the scene until the police come, and make sure you give them an accurate report of the incident. Cyclists are too often taken advantage of in bad situations, especially if their injuries aren't apparent in the immediate aftermath of an accident.

Find some friends. As cathartic as it can be to bike alone, zipping down the street in a big group is an equally satisfying experience. Most cities have ample resources for the cycling community that run the gamut from bike maintenance workshops to organized day trips, providing opportunities to both make connections and explore places you may have otherwise never heard of.

This GPS Guide is part of a series of posts designed to bring you back to balance when you're feeling off course.

GPS Guides are our way of showing you what has relieved others' stress in the hopes that you will be able to identify solutions that work for you. We all have de-stressing "secret weapons" that we pull out in times of tension or anxiety, whether they be photos that relax us or make us smile, songs that bring us back to our heart, quotes or poems that create a feeling of harmony or meditative exercises that help us find a sense of silence and calm. We encourage you to visit our other GPS Guides here, and share with us your own personal tips for finding peace, balance and tranquility.

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