No Time to Exercise? Turn Your Commute Into a Daily Workout

Biking to work helps your heart and clears your head
man with bike helmet

Though the health benefits of exercise are clear, hectic schedules make fitting in workouts difficult. A great solution is to work physical activity into your everyday routine. Instead of taking the car to work, turn your commute into a daily workout: Take out your bike and cycle to work.

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Health benefits of exercise

Some health benefits you get from regular physical activity include:

  • Lower blood pressure.
  • Control of hypertension (abnormally high blood pressure).
  • Weight control.
  • Diabetes control.
  • Improved self-esteem and mental health.
  • Lower “bad” cholesterol.
  • Improved cardiovascular function.

Biking to work gets you where you need to go, health-wise

“The benefits of exercise on heart health cannot be over-emphasized,” says Dermot Phelan, MD, PhD, Director of Cleveland Clinic’s Sports Cardiology Center. “Unfortunately, many people do not have time to dedicate to play sports or go to the gym. Cycling to work is a great alternative.”

A four-season sport

Patrick Tchou, MD, Co-Director of the Ventricular Arrhythmia Center at Cleveland Clinic, says, “I still bike to work about two to three times a week. The 20 miles I do on those days makes me feel good and helps to keep me fit, even in winter. I don’t ride if there’s snow on the ground, but if it’s just cold I try to ride even if the temps drop into the low teens. You just have to dress properly for it.”

Cardiologist Zoran Popovic, MD, PhD, shares his enthusiasm with the mantra, “Bike, bike, bike!”

And biking doesn’t have to be a solitary activity. In fact, some people “car pool” on bikes, sharing the road in bipedal solidarity.

Walid Saliba, MD, Medical Director of the Center for Atrial Fibrillation at Cleveland Clinic, says, “The best part of it is biking back home after a long day at work and enjoying the company of some colleagues biking along.”

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Cycling offers benefits of moderate exercise

Even good things like exercise are best done in moderation, according to a study that confirms that extreme, intense exercise isn’t risk-free. When experts analyzed existing studies about elite endurance athletes, they found evidence that repeated bouts of ultra marathon running actually injured heart tissue.

For ordinary folks, moderate exercise that increases your heart rate but doesn’t exhaust you is best. Bicycling is a good example. And it is a type of exercise that many people can stick with for life.

How much bicycling should you do?

Biking to work isn’t a good idea if you have a one-hour commute by car. But if you live near where you work, biking is possible. Always check for the best and safest routes and obey all traffic rules, signs and signals.

Cardiologist Wael A. Jaber, MD, Medical Director of Cleveland Clinic’s Cardiovascular Imaging Core Laboratory, has been riding his bicycle to work for about seven years. He enjoys how members of the biking community help each other out. “People who bike to work share which route has less traffic, which road they take before 6 a.m., and which one they take after 6 a.m. We try to avoid traffic, and travel on nice, pleasant roads,” he says.

In general, experts recommend that healthy adults should aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate activity, five days a week (or 20 minutes of vigorous activity three days a week.) If it’s easier to manage, you can break the activity down into shorter sessions of less intense exercise.

Making movement a natural part of living

You don’t have to be a gym rat to benefit from daily exercise. Just walking instead of driving to lunch, taking the stairs instead of the elevator, and walking or cycling to work or to run errands helps you shed excess calories, keep weight off, keep your strength up and keep your cardiovascular system in good shape.

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E. Murat Tuzcu, MD, Vice Chairman of Clinical Operations for Cleveland Clinic’s Department of Cardiovascular Medicine, is a biking enthusiast who has been riding his bike to work a few days a week, weather permitting, for the past five years. “I think people need to make exercising a part of their lives, rather than a doctor’s prescription, and I think it’s got to be fun,” he says. “I don’t ride to work every day, but I certainly feel more energetic when I do.”

As always, if you have heart disease, or if you have cardiovascular risk factors, it’s a good idea to talk to your doctor before starting an exercise program.

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