By Christine Ripp, MD

Congratulations! You have survived yet another long Minnesota winter. Why not celebrate the beautiful weather and take the opportunity to explore outside?

Obesity rates across the country continue to rise, and the Minnesota Department of Health estimates that 1 in 4 Minnesotans are now considered obese. A major contributor is a general lack of physical activity. For many people, cold winter weather keeps them indoors, limiting their exercise options. But with summer weather approaching, now is the time to take advantage and get a jumpstart on your health by returning to healthy, active habits.

It is important to find activities that you enjoy, and will keep doing, especially since organizations such as the American Heart Association recommend at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise each week. One excellent way to soak up the sun, exercise the body, and explore the neighborhood is to take a bike ride. Minnesota is second, following Washington State, on the list for bike friendly states on the League of American Bicyclists’ annual ranking. Additionally, the same group rates Saint Paul as a bronze level city for Bicycle Friendly Communities. Why not take advantage of our State’s great bikeways?

Bicycling has numerable benefits. Depending on your speed, you can get a great aerobic workout, which benefits your heart and lungs, adds muscle strength, and even helps build stronger bones. What’s more, unlike other types of aerobic exercise, bicycling offers heart-pumping benefits without added stress on the joints, perfect for those with arthritis or for people recovering from injuries. Biking can even help you sleep better. Researchers from Stanford University School of Medicine found that previously sedentary people suffering from insomnia reported improved sleep times after starting biking just 20-30 minutes every other day. It does not take much to have a big impact on your health, whether your goals are weight loss, enhanced fitness, or prevention of chronic diseases.

Additionally, bicycling supports mental health as well as physical health. Exercise triggers the release of endorphins, natural “feel-good” molecules in your brain, that ultimately lead to less stress and better moods. If you ride with a partner or two, biking can be a social activity, allowing riders to connect with not only each other but also their community, further promoting mental health and feelings of inclusivity. Finally, biking can help keep your brain healthy. A study from the University of Illinois found that just a five percent improvement in fitness from bicycling led to a 15 percent improvement on mental function tests.

Now how to go about fitting bicycling into a busy routine? Consider biking to work to fit in a little extra activity on busy weekdays. Or try substituting an errand normally done via automobile for one done on bike, as the National Household Travel Survey found that half of all car trips in the United States are three miles or less. If you pause to look, there are likely many easy opportunities to switch to biking.

As a bonus, bicycling is an opportunity to have fun as an entire family. It is a chance for parents to role model a healthy lifestyle, and provides time for making memories and bonding as a family. Destinations could include one of the city’s beautiful urban lakes or rivers, the local library, or a nearby park.

Don’t have a bicycle of your own? Nice Ride is a great option for anyone looking to get started, and with over 200 stations between Minneapolis and St. Paul, chances are that there is one close to your home or destination of choice. Nervous about riding on busy streets? St. Paul offers an excellent trail system, boasting over 84 miles of off-street paths, so you and your family can ride worry-free. Check out www.stpaul.gov/departments/public-works/bicycles/maps for ideas on where to start riding.

Just remember the following safety tips: always wear your helmet, choose bright visible clothing, and bring plenty of water!

Do not know where to start? Stop in at your local bike shop for some tips and insider knowledge, or learn more at one of these websites:

United Family Medicine

United Family Medicine