A Few Pedal Strokes Toward Health and Inner Zen

From the perspective of a middle-aged doctor with just a bit of an obsession with biking.

Written by Lev Lubarsky, DO, FACC, FASE, FSCCT

I was asked to share a short article about something promoting healthy lifestyle choices. It’s a tough ask, considering that I was a science major partially to avoid writing essays. I decided to give it a try and share my love for biking. I could have picked my other hobby of landscape photography (since it involves walking), but as they say, “a picture is worth a thousand words,” so biking it is.

Why biking?

Without getting too medically involved, biking is a great aerobic, non-weight-bearing exercise. Biking straightens your legs and core muscles, unloads pressure off the knee joints, leads to weight loss, and, of course, improves cardiopulmonary conditioning. My advice is to focus on higher cadence (the number of rotations of pedal strokes per minute) while trying not to grind or to push too hard. The bike should fit you well; otherwise, it may cause unwanted stress to your joints and back. Since most types of exercise lead to endorphin release, most cyclists notice an upbeat flow of energy during and after riding. Biking is a wonderful tool for managing stress, anxiety, and depression. With the proper selection of biking clothing, you can enjoy fresh air all year long.

How much and how often?

It is a good idea to start at 30 minutes per ride, with five to 10 minutes of slower warm-up pace and five minutes of cooldown two to three times per week. After that, it’s just a matter of balancing your love for riding (and your family remembering who you are). For instance, the AHA/ACC guidance is to exercise at a moderate intensity for two to three hours per week. For those of us over 40 years of age, I would recommend paying attention to your heart rate during your rides. Try not to exceed a heart rate of 70 to 80 percent of your age-related maximum predicted heart rate. For example, if you’re 50 years old, your casual ride should result in an average heart rate of the 120s, while a more intense ride should lead to a heart rate in the 140s to 150s. Proper hydration and nutrition are essential when biking, especially if your rides extend for more than 30 minutes. Think of drinking 24 ounces of non-caffeinated liquids per hour of biking. Assuring proper electrolyte supplementation is important as you progress and start riding for over an hour. Not keeping your sodium, potassium, and magnesium balanced may trigger muscle cramps and other medical setbacks. Do not eat heavy meals before biking, yet do not ride hungry. Eating some light carbs can be a guilt-free joy before or after riding, but don’t eat more calories than you burned. Did I mention that biking is a great sport for weight loss?! 

Where to bike on Long Island.

Z1: Beaches (good for fat-tire bikes, which are capable of rolling on sand and pebbles); tranquil scenery of early morning fog or sunset. #2: State parks (good for mountain or gravel bikes capable of biking off-road while absorbing unpleasant bumps). Local woods in Suffolk County alone have over 100 miles of bike-friendly trails, with just a few dangerous obstacles but endless serenity, and are away from traffic. #3: Local roads are also attractive for safe rides, especially at designated no-traffic trails (the Greenway rail trail or Captree to Jones Beach bike lanes). Conventional road bikes provide plenty of joy to those looking for speed. The safety-in-numbers concept applies to biking on the roads: a group of riders is easier to spot by passing cars. Stick to local or no-through-traffic areas, wear bright colors, and use bike lights. In sum, make the most of your tax dollars and use public lands and roads to cycle.

It’s a good time to consider buying a bike. Many people bought bikes during COVID-19, so now, a few years later, plenty of used bikes are for sale. Many new bikes are discounted now, too, as many manufacturers appear to have dropped the prices. 

As you gain skills and fitness, other opportunities will begin to open up. For instance, renting a bike during travel is a superb way to explore new places. Participation in fundraising events and races can lead to new friendships and connections with local groups and riders.

Ask for advice: Always share with your doctor any symptoms if you feel unwell while cycling or doing any exercise. A more personalized guide to cycling must be in place if you have a history of cardiovascular disease.

To schedule an appointment with North Suffolk Cardiology, call (631) 941-2000.