Road to Wellness – On a Bike

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Laureen Lowe-Albrecht; Orchard Park Health Care- Centennial
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Maybe you spent the winter snug on the couch.  Now it’s May, National Bike Month and the longer days are calling you. If you haven't heeded the urge to get out and bike around the neighborhood, here's another reason – you’ll be supporting our state’s ranking and it'll be a great gift to yourself. 

Colorado just rode into the top rungs of the National Bicycle Friendly State Rankings.  The announcement made on May 1, 2013, places Colorado second out of 50, reports Mindy McCleery, doctorate of physical therapy and director of rehabilitation for the active and aging population.

McCleery represents the growing trend to incorporate bikes into daily life.  She is not part of the League of American Bicyclists Bicycle Friendly State Program, which ranks states annually based on their level of bike-friendliness.  The League provides incentives, hands-on assistance, and award recognition for communities, universities and businesses that actively support bicycling.

Historically, bicycling has made an impact on society.  Just the word bike, being a noun and verb, should offer clues as to its multi-faceted place in our world. Here are a few bike points: 

  • Bicycling is a multi-million dollar industry. Bicycle couriers are popularly employed in large cities because they are not hindered from traffic and offer a more predictable- prompt delivery.
  • It’s also a sport. In 1903, The Tour de France started.  It’s currently one of the most famous bicycle races in the world. An extreme style of bicycle racing, known as bicycle Moto Cross (BMX), became a sport in the 2008 Summer Olympic Games in Beijing, China. 
  • Bikes jump-started other inventions. The Wright brothers, who built the first flying airplane, operated a small bike repair shop in Dayton, Ohio. This workshop and their many bike parts were used to build their flying invention.
  • In Europe, it’s a form of urban transportation.  Thirty percent of the population in the Netherlands and seven out of eight Dutch people over age 15 have a bike.

But what bikes, specifically the act of biking, do to promote our health has no other greater attribute.

“Seniors have the most to gain with our state’s national award and ranking.” “What makes cycling of the best exercise is there’s less joint impact,” says McCleery.  She believes that biking has less pounding impact onto feet, knees and hips is far less jarring than jogging and gentler on senior bodies.

Research also indicates that it can increase brain power.  More than half of all 85-year-olds suffer some form of dementia, says McCleery.  “The good news is that brain researchers say there are ways to boost brain capability and stall problems with memory and thinking,” she reports.

Neuroscientist Art Kramer, who directs the Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology at the University of Illinois, has a number of suggestions. First and foremost is to exercise, according to Kramer’s reports from NPR.

His research showed it’s the best thing you can do for your brain.  Proof came with MRI brain scans of 120 older adults.  Approximately sixty people participated in 45 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise thrice weekly and progressing towards 70 percent of their maximum heart rate with increases in speed and distance throughout the course of a year.  The other sixty people in the control group were given toning, stretching and light-strengthening exercise. After one year’s time, the evidence showed that the brain volumes actually increased for those who participated in moderate aerobic exercise.

“Starting your own fitness regime is taken one step at a time.  For those just starting out, bike riding can be a good choice.  For others it might mean getting an evaluation to determine where they stand in fitness and then using their baseline evaluation to get them prepared for the road,” reports McCleery.

Albert Einstein once used a metaphor comparing life to riding a bicycle.   “Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance you must keep moving.”  McCleery concurs.  “Everybody can gain with a little help from therapy and improve their road to wellness,” she says, “ask us how.”  Call Orchard Park Rehabilitation Center at 303-773-1000, located at 6005 S. Holly St., Centennial, CO 80121 - for more information.

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