There are a lot of people on either side of the car vs bike debate, and much rhetoric is spun to try to win over the masses. Obviously, being a car-free family, it's no secret I think that riding a bike is an amazing way to get around, but I'm not going to force anyone to change their habits by being a bully and using negative and hateful words. I understand that for some, bike commuting is simply not an option. I do, however, feel it's important to share with those who drive motorized vehicles every day the importance of daily physical activity. Instead of being so angry at those of us choosing to ride our bikes from point A to B, they need to understand the benefits of our actions.
Many out there think that all people who ride bikes are on some environmental mission to reduce greenhouse gases, "One Less Car" at a time. Lower emissions is definitely a benefit of riding a bike instead of driving a car, but that is not why my family and I chose to do it. Aside from it just being an energizing and fun way to get around, riding our bikes practically every day, even for just 30 minutes, has a huge impact on our health and well-being.
Many studies have discovered that just 30 minutes of physical activity a day can greatly improve you overall health. In a study conducted by the Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI), they found that:
"Physical inactivity had the strongest association with obesity at the population level for both men and women. The equivalent of 646,000 cases of obesity in women and 405,000 cases of obesity in men could be altered or averted if inactive populations became active."
With obesity being link to illnesses like heart disease and Type 2 diabetes, which is estimated to effect 1.8 million Canadians, it is imperative that an active lifestyle be promoted in a positively and accessible manner for all citizens. What this means for cycling is to stop advertising it as an unsafe way to travel. Statistics Canada found that in 2007, there were 65 cycling related fatalities (link here), whereas the latest statistics have found that in 2008, cardiovascular diseases accounted for more that 69,500 deaths in Canada (Heart and Stroke Foundation). While I don't think that premature death is something to make light of, the numbers clearly show that inactivity is far more dangerous to your health than riding a bike.
Outside of physical well-being and reducing the risk of heart disease and obesity levels, exercise in general, whether that walking, running, riding a bike or whatever else you do, increases your brain's ability to focus. I mentioned back in October that my daughter's school participated in the Beat the Street Competition (post here), focused on increasing the percentage of children riding or walking to school to combat the growing childhood obesity levels worldwide. The teachers of the school noticed a side-effect of more students walking or riding their bikes to school, with the kids being more attentive and receptive to their lessons. In a study from the US, it was found that:
"second and third graders who got an extra 90 minutes of physical activity per week did better on a test of spelling, reading and math" (source: Reuters).
So while the debate and arguments rage on between motorists and those who ride bikes, maybe it's time that people, especially policy makers, take a step back and look at the bigger picture. Riding a bike as a means of running small errands or commuting to work is a viable form of exercise, easily done by all citizens, regardless of their age, gender or class. By creating a more positive image of riding bikes, and toning down the rhetoric about how dangerous cycling is, it might just be possible to get more people riding bikes for non-recreational purposes. If the side-effects of increased cycling numbers is a reduction in obesity and the premature deaths caused by weight-related diseases, then this just seems like a no-brainer to me!