Real story: how biking improved my physical and mental health during COVID-19

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BCBST WellTuned, Christina Robinson, August 13, 2020

Before COVID-19, I was training for a half and full marathon. I strength trained five times a week, ran 10-plus miles every weekend, meal prepped, and fell asleep by 11 p.m. Training became an important part of my life and I took it seriously. I loved going to the gym to connect with others with similar aspirations and keep each other accountable.

However, when COVID-19 closed many gyms and parks, I had to think of new ways to exercise. I tried at-home workouts while running a few times a week in my neighborhood, but that success was short-lived.

A few months into stay-at-home orders, I lost motivation and started feeling sluggish. I slowly lost the muscle I gained while training for my now-canceled races.

Biking is the new cardio

During this time, my boyfriend was biking, and sending me photos of sunrises, along with the different routes he took each morning. I decided to challenge myself to try biking as it would be easier on my joints than running. I knew it would also be a good form of cardio and a way to explore my town.

So I purchased a hybrid bike and rode 15 miles that same day.

A month later, I’ve traveled 200-plus miles on my bike. Now, my boyfriend and I bike most mornings and watch the sunrise along our route. I usually listen to podcasts, audiobooks, or music in one ear. After a bike ride, I feel energized, more productive, and gain a clearer headspace throughout the day.

Here are four reasons biking improves my physical and mental health.

1. I can explore areas beyond my neighborhood

Biking allows me to go farther (compared to on foot). With the longer distance, I become curious to ride down new streets I’ve never explored. My boyfriend and I end up riding through different neighborhoods to find ideas for our next house.

2. I get lots of fresh air outside

Now that I’m working from home, I realize I spend a lot of time inside and don’t get enough fresh air for the majority of the day. So, I look forward to spending my mornings outside taking in the fresh air during a bike ride.

3. It keeps my heart strong and joints unstressed

My favorite thing about biking is that it puts less stress on my joints, while raising my heart rate, and working my cardiovascular system. On average, my heart rate is over 140 bpm during a morning ride. By the end of the bike ride, I can tell I’ve had a good workout and am ready for a hearty breakfast.

4. I can improve my mental health

Since I bike first thing in the morning, I take this time to check in mentally. I use the quietness of my surroundings to spend time in my thoughts, think about my plan for the day, and what I look forward to accomplishing. This helps me best to mentally prepare for the day.

If you decide to try biking, here are five tips I recommend.

1. Discover the right bike for you

  • Mountain bikes are great for Tennesseans as these bikes are built with bigger tires to provide stability on grass or forest trails.
  • Road bikes are lightweight and fast, perfect for riding on roads for long distance, commuting, and training.
  • Hybrid bikes are a combination of mountain and road bikes. Although hybrid bikes are not as fast as road bikes, they are more comfortable to ride over long distances.
  • Gravel bikes are great for various terrain, on or off road.
  • Time trial or “tri” bikes are great for individuals considering a triathlon.

Ultimately, it’s best to consider visiting your local bike shop to learn more about what bike is right for you. But keep in mind some bike shops have experienced delays, like many other industries, in getting inventory from bike and equipment manufacturers.

2. Invest in accessories

  • helmet should be a necessary accessory if you decide to ride in streets with heavy traffic.
  • phone holder keeps you hands-free while you use your phone for music or GPS.
  • Lights are a good idea if you bike in the dark and want drivers to easily see you. Tennessee traffic laws require cyclists to equip their bicycles with both front and rear lights that are visible from at least 500 feet.
  • It’s always a good idea to have a water bottle handy, especially in the summer months.

3. Stretch before and after bike rides

The last thing you need is your body sore and limping around because your muscles are tight. Even simple stretches help to reduce serious injuries, cramps, and improve flexibility.

4. Refuel

Post-workout nutrition is an important part of exercising as it helps to put energy back into your body. Cramps can be reduced by a protein drink, bananas, or having a sports drink to recover from biking or other kinds of exercise.

5. Use apps to keep track of your rides

I use Strava to keep track of bike rides. It uses GPS technology to keep track of where I rode, my speed, and total time. Plus, Strava has a feature to add friends and see their bike activity and encourage them, too.

Biking is a great form of cardio that allows you to explore new areas and improve your cardiovascular and mental health. Think about what health benefits you could gain from biking or other types of exercise, especially as we work to cope with COVID-19. Prioritizing what your mind and body need to be healthy will help in your journey toward better health and well-being.

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