Whether for health, environmental, economic, or social reasons, bicycling can be a great way to go places. CDR Arthur M. Wendel, MD, MPH is Team Lead of the Healthy Community Design Initiative at CDC’s National Center for Environmental Health. He has been using his bicycle as a major means of transportation for many years. Read more to learn how he incorporates physical activity into his daily routine by riding his bike to work.
“My life is too busy!”
“I just don’t have time!”
Ever heard these reasons for not exercising regularly—or have you even said them yourself? Many of us live busy lives with multiple responsibilities at work, home, school, and elsewhere. But would improving your health or saving your life be reason enough to figure out some way to add exercise to your life?
Regular physical activity can prevent many of the leading causes of death and disability, but too few people exercise regularly. Walking and biking are good ways to add regular exercise to your life. But you may still wonder how you can find time. What if I told you that you can incorporate physical activity into your life as part of your daily routine? How about walking or biking to work or to run errands?
If walking or biking as part of a daily commute is possible for many, then why are more people not doing it? The answer is clear: along many city routes, biking is not only difficult, but also dangerous. Motor vehicle fatalities are a leading cause of death, but per mile traveled, bicyclists are at even higher risk for injuries and fatalities than drivers.
Even for short trips, many people feel that concern for personal safety outweighs the health benefits of bicycling to work and other places. But well-designed infrastructure such as bike lanes and paths can relieve that concern and remove the barrier to bicycling as a regular means of transportation and daily exercise.
As a public health physician, I am committed to exercising. Other than bicycling, my choices for exercise are running or going to the gym, but these require an investment of time on a regular basis. Yes, it takes me 10 minutes longer to bike to work rather than driving, but I can get exercise and travel at the same time. Yes, the risk of injury is real. But biking to work is a great way to squeeze in regular exercise among job, volunteer, and family commitments.
Biking can also be about economics. That was my primary reason for riding in medical school when I was spending a fortune on tuition. I started riding my bike regularly rather than take on the financial burden of a car. I continued this practice through residency and my state-based public health training. Both of my primary work sites were on a major bike path and parking a car was expensive, so riding made even more sense.
My biking habit in Atlanta, my current home, is more challenging. While there are certainly some great places for recreational riding and the promise of better infrastructure in the future, my 5-mile commute to work is not the best environment for riding. Through trial-and-error, I have adjusted routes and times of travel to avoid hazards; yet many are unavoidable.
Despite the risks, I still enjoy riding, especially at this time of year when everything is blooming. My favorite part of the commute is starting the morning off riding with my son through our neighborhood to his school. I’m grateful for our time together and the opportunity for him to get some physical activity to help him concentrate better during the day.
I encourage anyone with a reasonable commute to dust off that bike stashed in a garage or storage space and give it a shot. If it seems too dangerous, go for a ride in your neighborhood, or, at a minimum, think about what it would take to make a bicycle commute realistic for you—even if it is to the local coffee shop. Check out your local bicycling coalition Web sites; they may have route maps and tips for a safer commute.
My hope is that my son will grow up in a world that increasingly recognizes the important relationship between safety and physical activity, and creates environments where he can go for a walk or ride a bicycle to places without fear of injury.
Here are some tips from the League of American Bicyclists that will help you enjoy biking to work more:
• Have your bike checked over by your local bike shop
• Always wear a helmet to protect your head in the event of a crash
• Ride in the right-most lane that goes in the direction that you are traveling
• Obey all stop signs, traffic lights and lane markings
• Look before you change lanes or signal a turn; indicate your intention, then act
• Be visible and predictable at all times; wear bright clothing and signal turns.