Get Into Gear

Regular bicycling gives your heart, brain, bones and muscles a workout.

Nothing beats a bicycle ride on a balmy Florida day. Not only is it fun, it’s good for you.
For one thing, it’s easy on the joints, according to Harvard Medical School. Bicyclists put their weight on their pelvic bones, so individuals with joint pain needn’t be concerned about straining those joints. 

Cycling also builds muscle, especially the gluteals, hamstrings, quadriceps and calves. Other muscles that get a workout are the abdominals, arms and shoulders. 

Those are just some of the benefits of bicycling, Harvard researchers say. Pedal-pushing also builds bone density and provides an aerobic workout that’s great for your heart, brain and blood vessels.

All aerobic workouts “reduce the risk for cardiovascular disease and diabetes, and reduce blood pressure,” says Bret H. Goodpaster, a senior investigator with Florida Hospital’s Translational Research Institute for Metabolism and Diabetes. 

With cycling, “there’s more involvement of leg muscles, but the leg muscles comprise a higher percentage of total muscles in the body,” Goodpaster says. “A lot of the conditions associated with aging and mobility limitation and disability are more strongly related to the lower body muscles than the upper muscles,” so it makes sense to keep those muscles healthy and strong.

Although bicycling on hilly terrain offers a great aerobic workout, cyclists can make even flat terrain challenging, Goodpaster says.

“It’s very much akin to walking or jogging,” he says. “You can do a leisurely ride, sort of like brisk walking, or go harder just like you would running.”

A 45-minute ride four days a week, or a 30-minute ride five days a week, would meet the government’s guidelines for fitness activity, Goodpaster says, noting: “Some of the most physically fit humans on the planet are cyclists.” 

Be Safe Out There

Central Florida has the perfect weather for year-round bicycling, but rain or shine, safety comes first, and it involves much more than simply strapping on a helmet. 

“Helmets are a good idea, but they’re the last layer of protection,” says Mighk Wilson, a transportation planner with MetroPlan Orlando. “They won’t keep you out of a crash.” Following these tips should:

Ride on the roadway. Although it’s legal in most Florida communities to ride on the sidewalks, you’re safer on the roadway. The farther to the right you are, the farther out of normal scanning range you are. A motorist coming from behind you and making a right turn may not notice you on the sidewalk. Drivers pulling out of their driveways also are less likely to see you. 

Ride with the flow of traffic. Riding against the flow increases your risk for a crash fourfold.

Ride in the bike lane or in the center of the traffic lane. If the bike lane isn’t wide enough, or if there is no designated bike lane, the law allows bicyclists to ride anywhere in the traffic lane, and the center is the safest place to be.

Use lights for nighttime cycling. Equip your bicycle with the minimum of a red tail light and a steady—not flashing—headlight. 

Perfect your road skills. Learn how to check over your shoulder without swerving so that drivers can see you’re preparing to do something. Signal your turning intentions with an outstretched left or right arm.

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