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Women on a Roll to Better Health
For too many women, daily physical activity has taken a back seat to our busy lives.
Research has shown that women shoulder a larger share of the household responsibilities. Couple those time constraints with the way our communities are engineered, and it's not all that surprising that only 18 percent of women in the U.S. meet physical activity recommendations, more than 1/3 are obese and heart disease is the number one killer of American women.
Just last week, we released a first-of-its-kind report — “Women on Roll” — that compiles dozens of statistics and highlights five key focus areas to inspire and encourage more female ridership. One of the most important take-aways: More women on bikes means a healthier America. With the rise in bicycling, more and more women are turning back the nation’s epidemic of sedentary diseases by incorporating riding into their lifestyles as a convenient, low-cost and fun way to improve their health and the health of their families.
Perhaps one of the most surprising numbers in the report is that, from 2003 to 2012, bicycling among women and girls has grown a staggering 20% while remaining flat for men. Why such a jump? One of the major reasons is certainly that women recognize biking as a great means to improve their fitness.
With the nation facing a crippling rise in healthcare costs, women are critical in turning this trend around by bicycling to better health. Not only are female riders benefiting themselves, but serving as role models for their families and as engaged leaders in their communities.
According to the report:
- 69% of women bicycle owners say they ride for fitness.
- More than 80% of bicycle commuters report their health has improved since they started riding.
- Bicycling just 20 miles per week reduces women’s risk of heart disease by 50 percent.
- Women who bike just four hours per week are less likely to gain weight than women who don’t ride.
- Bicycling just 30 minute per day reduces women’s risk of breast cancer.
Such a simple and elegant machine, bicycling is transforming the health of women nationwide as they incorporate cycling into their daily lives or regular routines.
For Mari Ruddy of St. Paul, Minn., bicycling became a long-term solution to a life-long disease: Type 1 diabetes. "Type 1 diabetes requires diligent attention to balancing food, insulin, stress and exercise,” she says. “It’s a balancing act that sometimes feels like I need a medical degree, an exercise physiology degree and a dietitian credential to manage. When I was in my late 30’s after many years of poorly managed diabetes, I discovered that the key to it all was riding my bike.”
But after training for and successfully riding a 400-mile tour of Colorado, she simply couldn’t recover. A few months later she was diagnosed with Stage II breast cancer. “I rode my bike on a trainer in my living room during chemo treatments and I rode my bike to and from the majority of my radiation sessions,” she says. “As the bike had given me hope with my diabetes management, the bike grounded me in who I was as I moved through breast cancer treatments.”
After treatment, she was inspired by the cancer survivor community and wanted to bring that same solidarity to the world of diabetes. “I got involved with the American Diabetes Association Tour de Cure and started the Red Rider Recognition Program,” she says. “Red Riders are the more than 7,000 cyclists who ride in the Tour de Cure who have diabetes. Red Riders are the heroes of the ride, for we are not victims of our health struggles, but rather we courageously get on our bikes and take charge of our wellness.”
For Heather Towers in Salisbury, Md., pedaling to wellness started with a practical realization: She lived, worked, and went to college all within five miles of each other. She got her wheels turning on an "old rusty discount store bike" but got hooked on the economic savings — and, more importantly, how she felt. Soon she bought a new hybrid built for city riding and the transformation began.
"From cycling, I've experienced better cardiovascular health, energy, and overall strength," she says. "I arrive to work in a better mood too. For someone who used to get the majority of my fitness in a gym, cycling is so much more fun. It's liberating and exciting - every day brings a new adventure on my bike. I lost fifteen pounds last year and gained a hobby I just can't seem to get enough of!"
And other people in her life have taken notice and been inspired: "Another thing that makes me very happy is the effect it's had on friends and family — people see my contagious joy and want to grab that for themselves," she adds. "Many of them are getting on bikes for the first time in years and loving every minute."
And bicycling is a joy for women of any age; just ask Mary Brown, who's still going strong at age 83.
"My journey with cycling has taken me farther than I ever imaged," she says. "Starting at age fifty, I chose to start exercising and it didn't take long to see improvements in my mental and physical health. Retiring at 65 and experiencing some joint pain, I added cycling to my regiment. Little did I know that at age 69 I would be one of a team of four doing Race Across America, riding from Irvine, Calif. to Savannah, Ga., with three other seniors. This was my greatest cycling experience."
Riding regularly with the Major Taylor Cycling Club of San Diego, Brown says the impact of bicycling is multi-dimension. "The benefits are many: mentally, physically, spiritually, and emotionally," she says. "With determination, dedication and devotion each ride is a joy."
Learn more about the research behind women's health and bicycling, as well as hear firsthand stories from women who's lives have been changed by cycling on our live Google Hangout on Thursday, August 15, at 2 p.m. Eastern. Click here to register.
How has cycling boosted your fitness or improved your health? Share in the comments!