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Bike Riding for Health

If you're looking for ways to get more exercise with diabetes or lose a few pounds, your answer could be parked right under your nose. Dust off your bike or buy a new bicycle for a great adventure and way to move more. Whether you're bike riding for weight loss or for better health, we have useful tips to get started so you can get rolling.

  • One Pedal at a Time

    Riding a bike for weight loss, for fun, or for better health is a skill that, once acquired, is never really forgotten.

    If you haven't been active in a long time or are unsure if cycling is safe for you, talk with your health care provider to ensure your heart, feet, eyes, and blood pressure are in good health.

    Michael Riddell, Ph.D., associate professor at the School of Kinesiology and Health Science at York University in Toronto who also has type 1 diabetes, says there are no adverse effects of biking. "Regular physical activity is just as important as having a good A1C. It lowers your risk of complications and helps you live a longer life," he says.

    Before hitting the road or the trail, Riddell recommends testing blood glucose twice, about 20 minutes apart, for people who are on insulin or sulfonylureas. Sulfonylureas are pills that increase the amount of insulin the pancreas produces. "Testing measures not only where your levels are right now but also where they're heading," Riddell says. Then try to test every 30-40 minutes during your activity, and make adjustments to your exercise as needed.

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  • Choose Your Bike

    Buying a bike is like buying a car; you can choose from an endless number of models loaded with options and features that vary based on price -- and you always want to test-drive before you buy. Before heading to a bike shop, determine what style of bike is best for the riding you'd like to do.

    Cruiser Bike 
    Also called a beach cruiser or townie bike, it has a small range of gears that make it difficult to ride in hilly areas. But the soft saddle and wide handlebars are comfortable.

    Road Bike 
    This bike is built for speed and designed to ride on paved roads. For aerodynamic purposes, the bike usually has dropped handlebars, narrow tires, and a lightweight frame.

    Hybrid Bike
    This cross between a road bike and a mountain bike has slightly wider tires and a stout frame for good traction and weight support. A comfort hybrid lets you sit upright, taking pressure off your back.

    Recumbent Bike
    A recumbent bike has a reclined seat and pedals out in front of your body. The design distributes the rider's weight comfortably and provides more back support.

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  • Measuring Arm Length

    Visit your local bike shop for a professional adjustment so you are comfortable while you ride. If you choose not to get fitted, use these tips from Adam Thompson, Specialized Certified Master BG Fit Technician at Rasmussen Bike Shop in Des Moines.

    When measuring arm length, place your hands on the handlebars; arms should be slightly bent. The best way to support yourself is to relax your hands and shoulders; use your core muscles for balance and strength. Prevent discomfort in the hands and shoulders by keeping a soft bend in your elbows and your shoulders back and down, away from your ears. If you're stretching to reach the handlebars, adjust their position or move your seat forward.

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  • Measuring Seat Height

    You want the bike seat about the same height as your hip bone. If it's been a few years since you've ridden a bike, position the seat so you can touch the ground with your tiptoes. If you have a road bike and you're in good biking condition, you'll want a slight bend at the knee when the pedal is at its lowest point.

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  • Stay Hydrated

    Charlotte Hayes, RD, CDE, recommends drinking 2-3 cups of water before exercising and drinking every 20-25 minutes during your workout. Continue to hydrate after your bike ride, especially when you're in a warm environment. "If you have a hard time reaching your water bottle as you ride, stop and dismount the bike," she says.

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  • Get Comfy

    "The best seat varies by bike," says Adam Thompson, Specialized Certified Master BG Fit Technician at Rasmussen Bike Shop in Des Moines. "If you're looking for a comfort hybrid, you want a seat with more width. On a performance bike, something more dense with a cutout in the seat isn't going to give as easy during a long ride."

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  • Pack Smart

    Every time you ride, remember your medical alert or identification and wear a helmet. Pack your blood glucose meter, strips, cell phone, and identification in a waterproof pouch to keep them safe from sweat or rainy weather. If you're going on a long ride, consider packing insulin in a small cooler in case temperatures soar. Carry a snack as well as carb-base items such as fruit juice, glucose tablets or gel, or sugary candies.

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  • Get Going!

    Set out on a route that is familiar and fairly flat, and take frequent rests. Gradually build distance and difficulty as you get more comfortable on the bike.

    "Start feeling confident on the bike again by setting a gradual relearning process in place and make small steps," says Charlotte Hayes, RD, CDE, an American Association of Diabetes Educators spokesperson in Atlanta. "Just like our bodies adapt to being less fit, it takes a step-by-step process to achieve better health. Over time, being consistent with exercise can have a good glucose-lowering effect that lasts and is sustained."

    Hayes recommends being active most days of the week and avoiding gaps between exercise of more than two or three days. "All adults, not just people with diabetes, should accumulate 150 minutes or more of physical activity throughout each week. How you do that can be flexible, but each short session should last at least 10 minutes," she says.

    Just take it one pedal at a time and remember to have fun! For more motivation, consider training for one of the following causes:

    American Diabetes Association
    The Tour de Cure is a cycling event held in 44 states across the country to raise funds to fight diabetes. More than 65,000 cyclists are expected to participate. Routes are designed for everyone from the occasional rider to experienced cyclists, ranging from 10 to 100 miles. There are rest stops, food, and fans along the way. To register, visit tour.diabetes.org.

    JDRF 
    The JDRF Ride to Cure Diabetes is a similar event that brings together riders from around the world to raise money for diabetes research while training for a century (100-mile) bike ride in destinations such as Death Valley National Park, Lake Tahoe, and Nashville. The routes are designed for riders of all fitness levels, and multiple fund-raising and mileage options are available with provided support and training. For more information, go to jdrf.org/ride.

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