When your commute is your exercise

I moved to Vejle, Denmark with my husband in August, and we’ve both gone through major cultural shock since our arrival! One thing that struck us immediately was the fact that the Danes are very health-conscious and tend to be lean, athletic folks. Of course there are always exceptions, but I think there are several cultural influences that contribute to this overall mindset. I’ll only focus on one for today: bicycles.

Remember the two-wheeled vehicles that gave you your first taste of freedom and speed when you were a kid? When was the last time that you rode one? If you live in Denmark, then the answer is probably “today.” Many Danes, kids and adults alike, ride bikes as their primary method of transportation. There’s a bike rack outside of every store and community building, and it’s not uncommon to see people toting a huge load of groceries or a backpack full of household goods home from their shopping trips. We’ve gotten into the spirit and have joined the masses, riding our bikes everywhere we go in our little city.

Cycling is especially popular in Copenhagen, where a recently developed “biking super highway” connects the outlying suburbs with the inner city roads and allows commuters to ride to work on two wheels rather than four. Copenhagen is considered one of the most biker-friendly cities in the world; In fact, more than 36% of the population uses a bicycle to commute to work, even during the winter months! The “highways” on which they ride stretch as far as 20 kilometers from the city center, and there are repair stations every kilometer in case of a flat. Now obviously Americans don’t have the same biking luxuries at their disposal, but there are still many states and communities where it’s feasible to consider this form of transportation to and from work. If your commute is on the short side (less than 10 miles) and the road offers safe conditions for bikers, then I highly recommend trying it! And if cycling to work isn’t practical for you because of the route, weather conditions, distance, or any other factors, then you can still use the two-wheeled wonder to run errands, visit a friends’ house, or just go for a joy ride!

Need some convincing?

There are numerous physical and practical benefits to this type of commuting: not only does it save gas money and reduce exhaust emissions from your car, but it is also a fabulous way to get some exercise, especially if your schedule is too busy to fit in a separate workout. Depending on the traffic in your area, you may spend just as long sitting in a car as you would on a bike. And the endorphins you produce from exercising will give you a fresh, positive outlook on the day. Take it from the Danish Minister of Transport, who said the following in a recent NY Times article:

“When you have been biking for 30 minutes, you have a really good feeling about yourself.  You really enjoy a glass of wine because you’ve earned it.”

I couldn’t have said it better myself!  Biking is a great way to burn calories without necessarily breaking a sweat (especially if you don’t want to show up to work soaking wet).  According to nutrition experts from the International Olympic Committee, those who bike to work at a leisurely pace will burn between 4-6 calories per kilogram per hour. Let’s do the math for a few examples…

 

Weight (lb)

Weight (kg)

Calories/hr burned

120

54.5

220-325

150

68

270-410

200

90.7

360-540

250

113.6

450-680

Okay, that sounds pretty good! But you may not consider yourself qualified to bike to work… maybe your bike is a basic model or has a bit of rust on it from too many years in storage; or maybe you haven’t ridden since you were a kid and aren’t sure that you’ll really remember how. But let me encourage you by saying that it doesn’t take professional experience, an expensive road bike, or specialized biking gear to manage a short ride to work. I challenge you to take the first step by pulling that bike out of storage and cruising around the block a few times to remember how it feels. Once you’ve done this, you’ll be ready to participate in National Bike to Work Week from May 14th – 18th, 2013!

Want to find out how bicycle-friendly your community is? Check it out here.

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