So here I am enjoying my thirteenth Global Corporate Challenge (GCC) and, as always, I've discovered something new about myself as I do each time the GCC gets underway. This year I've decided that I've been neglecting the opportunity to enter cycling and swimming activities into my daily GCC step entry, so I have resolved to mix up my activity.
I love to swim but I find it hard to get to a swimming pool regularly, and the thing I love about running is that I can do it anywhere - starting right outside my front gate, anytime I wish. For this reason, I decided to augment my steps with cycling.
A month into it and I'm surprised at just how much I enjoy it. I'd go so far as to say it's changing my life and the way I see the world around me, which, by the way, is precisely what GCC is engineered to do. I shouldn't be surprised of course, because there are very good physical, mental, social and environmental reasons why cycling has grown in popularity.
Here's what I've noticed so far about cycling:
1. It's really efficient
Our lives become more over-scheduled each year, but cycling is a workout that fits in relatively easily because it can replace a morning and afternoon commute. Riding to work - even just a couple of times each week -- not only burns calories, but it also sets the tone for the day.
There is a growing amount of evidence that indicates that sitting in traffic is bad for our health and those of us who can bike it, should. I acknowledge that not everyone lives within cycling distance of where they work and many of us have children to drop off and collect, but there is a good percentage of people who have this option; they just need to give it a try. When you do, you'll be amazed at how efficient it is.
2. Cycling saves money
It goes without saying that a bicycle is cheaper to buy and maintain than a car. Equally obvious is the fact that the energy used to propel a bike doesn't come from a gas station. So each time you swap a car trip for a bike trip, you're saving money.
A lot of studies have shown that the savings you'll make vary depending upon where you happen to reside. Here is something to consider: according to the American Automobile Association, the cost of driving an average car a total of 24,000km/15,000 miles last year was $9,000.
This cost consisted of fuel, maintenance and wear, insurance, various taxes, depreciation, and finance charges. Most people are afraid to add it up, but when you do, the cost of running a car is significant.
America's Bureau of Labour Statistics reported that Americans spent more on transportation than on food last year. US $9,000 equates to around US$40 a day to drive to work. In contrast, the cost of owning a bike (and the other associated items such as lights and clothing) runs into hundreds of dollars. It would appear that the generation of employees now entering the workforce has already figured this out; between 2007 and 2011, the number of cars purchased by people aged 18 to 34 fell almost 30% across the United States, according to a study from the AAA.
3. Biking can actually make you smarter
Recent research shows that cycling as a form of exercise sharpens your thinking as well. Cycling gets the nerve cells in your brain firing and as these neurons spark into action they foster the production of proteins such as brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF).
It also helps your neurotransmitters communicate more effectively. Put simply, this means you improve your ability to retain information and ability to concentrate. With every turn of the pedals your brain gets stronger.
4. Bikes are much safer than you think
There seems to be a perception that cycling is dangerous. The biggest kicker of course is that throwing your leg over a bike now and again has an overwhelming potential to actually save your life.
The most likely thing to kill you is heart disease. It packs odds of 467:1 for the average American as a cause of death. The odds of you dying on a bicycle in comparison are 340,845:1. One of the best things you can do to reduce the likelihood of developing heart disease is to literally get on your bike.
5. Cycling is becoming easier each year
Thanks to cycling's booming popularity, it's has become increasingly convenient. Local governments are building and upgrading bike paths in many cities and towns. Bike parking and showers are being demanded by employees and are now designed into most new office buildings.
There is a global body of evidence that shows that as cycling becomes more popular and the number of cyclists increases, the safer it becomes. The accidents rates actually fall as the percentage of cyclists grows.
6. Your boss and your mayor will thank you and your bike
Smart employers and cities that want to attract and retain valuable talent understand the connection between encouraging cycling and a better quality of life. So much so that in the United States, for example, many businesses have joined the 'Bicycle Friendly Business' program. This includes GCC clients such as AstraZeneca.
These employers are committed to encouraging employees to ride their bikes to work as are cities like NYC, which has mandated that office buildings now legally have to offer bike storage for workers. The Australian government recently completed a study indicating that the economy benefits by just over $21 AUD every time a citizen rides a bike 20 minutes to work and back.
Oh, in case you're wondering what your walking might be doing: the same study calculated a saving of $8.50 per employee walking at least 20 minutes to and from work. Nice.
7. Somewhere, the perfect bike is waiting for you
There are so many different kinds of bikes there's bound to be a style and price point to suit your needs. Whether it's a city bike for short commutes to work and the store, a 'fixie' if you're a hipster, a cruiser if you're never in a hurry, a racing bike if you're always in a hurry and mountain bikes if you're an outdoor type.
8. Bikes can make great (little) people movers
If you find that everywhere you need to go, there are several smaller and cuter versions of you who are depending on you to get them there, then there are plenty of family options. You've probably seen families out on bikes and parents towing kids along in those little trailers. These parents aren't just getting from A to B, they're also teaching their kids the good habits of exercise.
9. Cycling builds your muscles
Because it works the glutes, quads and calves and leaves you with lean muscles from your ankles all the way up to your lower back. Some of the less obvious benefits include surprising improvement in core muscle groups from balancing, which improve your posture, and upper body strength as well, giving you an all over workout. But the best bit is it's also fun, which means it keeps your mind busy while your body does all the work, so your more likely to keep it up long term.
10. Cycling connects you to your neighborhood and the environment
One of the unique things about getting on a bike is that it not only allows you to get quickly from one place to the next but it gives you a new perspective on the people and the places around you. You start to notice things that you hadn't noticed before, for example, just how disconnected you are from your community when you just drive through it in a bubble.
I'm not anti-car, but there is a reason why middle-aged men worldwide are spending their mid-life crisis money on fast, expensive Italian racing bikes instead of fast, expensive Italian cars, and it's because bikes connect you to people in a way that cars cannot.
11. It's way more social than you think it is
You've probably heard the saying: 'cycling is the new golf'. Well, if data from sporting industry retailers, cycling and golf club memberships, audience numbers at major events, and holiday bookings are any indication, then cycling is indeed overtaking golf at a fantastic speed.
Part of the appeal of cycling is that it is a surprisingly social pastime. Once you have covered a short distance, it is very easy to roll along and hold a conversation. The conversations you saw happening between Lycra-clad middle-aged corporate types outside your local cafe last weekend, were probably started 40 kilometers earlier out on the road.
12. Riding a bike lifts your mood
There is a growing body of compelling scientific evidence supporting the fact that cycling improves mood, releases stress and creates a rush of endorphins to the brain. Next time you stand beside a road, take a look at the expressions on the faces of the people driving cars and compare them to those riding bicycles. There's generally a big difference.
13. You and your bike are helping the environment.
Everyone knows what cars are doing to the environment. A few less car trips here and there which turn into bike trips instead, really add up.
14. You don't even need to buy a bike in a lot of places
You may be lucky enough to live in a city like London or New York or San Francisco or Melbourne or Dublin where they've instituted a bike share scheme. This is a great way to ease your way in without having to make a commitment.
I recently discovered that a lot of bike shops will loan you a bike. If you go in and tell them that you're thinking of buying a like but you're not yet sure, they'll loan you one. I should add that you're not alone in kicking the tires of a bike these days. You may be surprised to learn that this year, across the OECD bikes are out-selling cars.
15. Cycling keeps burning calories even after you've stopped
There is a growing body of research that indicates cyclists continue to burn calories even after they've stopped cycling. They weren't European pros either. This study cohort was made up of otherwise sedentary working parents who were gently riding three days per week.
For several hours after your ride, you're likely to still be burning energy compared to if you hadn't been out on your bike. It's like the gift that keeps on giving.
16. You'll have more energy
I've noticed that I have more energy when I've been on a bike ride. I have more energy when I've been for a run too, but when I've been for a run I tend to also feel a little stiff and sore in the legs.
Cycling is low impact like swimming is, so the energy boost doesn't come at a cost in terms of the impact on joints. More energy, of course, is likely to lead to better productivity and a happier mood.
Cycling gives you fresh perspective and connects you to your environment
17. Cyclists are everywhere
Take GCC as an example: believe it or not, there are 107,059 active cyclists in GCC this year, or about 39.7 percent of all participants. Based on our current GCC Insights data, if you include a little cycling this year you'll:
- take the equivalent of an extra 20 percent more steps on average
- exercise more days per week
- have a better health score
- sleep better
- find yourself more engaged
- feel more deeply involved in your health journey
- feel less stress at home
- have greater awareness of what you're eating
- have a lower BMI
Based on everything we measure, cyclists come out on top of non-cyclists. Oh, and if you think maybe you've left it a little late to get on a bike, cyclists in GCC are older than their non-cycling counterparts, which supports the idea that it's a great low-impact activity as you get a little older. See how we convert cycling distance into steps here.
18. Cycling can help you "age well"
As we're contemplating the passage of time, researchers at King's College in London have found that older, amateur cyclists aged 55-79 were physiologically and biologically much younger than their peers.
These older riders each cycled between 60 to 100 kilometres in around six hours - a very gentle pace - and were then monitored closely for two days to assess areas such as their reaction times, memory, cardiovascular and endocrine functions, mood, appetite, energy levels and respiratory systems.
Steve Harridge, the senior author of the study published in the Journal of Physiology, wrote: 'We had assumed that there is a linear straight line decline in physiology with ageing but that is very unlikely to be the case. We're not saying we're reversing ageing but that cycling seems to optimize the ageing process.'
19. Cycling is fun
Remember when you used to get out on your bike as a kid and felt the road flying beneath your wheels? Remember that feeling of freedom and release? That doesn't get old. It's still there. Going for a ride still provides a massive, euphoric buzz. Riding around corners and whizzing past things with the wind in your face makes you feel like a kid again.
OK, so there you have it. The scientists have convinced me that cycling will add days to my life, and the child inside me has learned that it adds life to my days. Both are valuable lessons.
So let's all keep moving and keep discovering.
Read more tips and insights about health and performance on the GCC's blog