In a fitness crazed state like Colorado, and many other states for that matter, it is easy to get lost in all the changing fads of what is deemed “healthy” and what is not. It seems that every week there is a new miracle drug, food, supplement, or workout. But ask any dietitian and they will likely give you the same secret to being healthy: eat less and exercise more.
Simple enough advice. On the surface at least. Like most things, once you dive in deeper it becomes more complex. But don’t worry, this article isn’t going to discuss all the meanings behind that idea. Instead, we are going to explore one half of that health equation: exercising more. Health aficionados agree that one of the best ways to keep working out (and staying healthy) is to do something fun.
No brainer right? The question is, what’s an exercise that not only keeps you healthy but might also improve overall intelligence and longevity (and happiness)? If you’ve read the title you probably have a good shot of getting it. But just in case you haven’t (and don’t want to look up at the top) it’s CYCLING.
In 2007, Charles Hillman published a study linking cycling to increased brainpower and staving off Alzheimers in the elderly. Another study analyzed the effects of cycling on people, and especially adolescents, with ADHD and ADD. Lindsay Shaw, one of the leading researchers in this field, explains that exercise “seemed to provide a cognitive boost” and that “the brain processes information more efficiently after exercise.”
The founder of Specialized Bicycle Components, Mike Sinyard, could relate to these studies, “I have ADHD, and so do a lot of people who ride for hours and hours… as riders, we know it has this effect on the brain. It’s not just about being physically active. There’s a Zen-like meditation to the rotation of the pedals, almost like a Buddhist-chant.”
Similarly, besides more focus and productivity, studies also show cycling improves your heart health - a study done by Purdue University showed that just 20 miles of cycling a week can greatly reduce the risk of heart-related diseases.
Another awesome proven benefit of cycling is longevity. Multiple studies, most having to do with past Tour de France riders, shows a correlation between intense cycling and living longer. This increase in time ranged from eight to six years. While another study done by scientists in Denmark looked at 5000 men and women who cycled every day in Copenhagen. The study found that the ones who did more intense cycling (where they would be out of breath at the end) lived five years longer for the men and four years longer for the women respectively (so maybe add a couple sprints in at the end).
Other health benefits from cycling include increasing your self-esteem and your feeling of sexiness, helping you recover from injuries faster, and helping you lose weight. Plus, overall happiness. A study by the YMCA revealed what every cyclist knew all along: that exercise makes you happier and people with a physically active lifestyle have a well-being score that is 32 % t higher than those with inactive lifestyles. While all exercise can create this happiness, cycling might be one of the best - because is there really anything better than exploring a new, beautiful area while on the seat of a bike?
While we know not everyone is going to enjoy cycling (we have friends who avoid bikes like the plague) the evidence supporting its many health benefits are hard to ignore. It’s a great form of exercise that is easier on your body than most, it can take you to cool places, it helps you focus more and it even might extend your life.
So now that you know the perks of cycling, what about some super spectacular rides all across the USA? As mentioned, biking can take you to some stellar places (hello beautiful backroads). So get ready for some amazing adventures, all from the seat of your bike, across the United States.
San Juan Island Circuit, Washington.
Taking either a full or half-day to complete, this circuit around the stunning island of San Juan Island in northwestern Washington state gives you all the classic Pacific Northwest Scenery from the seat of your bike. Only 35 miles in length, and not a lot of climbing, this can be done at a pretty leisurely pace - perfect for many whale-spotting stops, photo ops of the surrounding Olympic Mountain Range, and quick jaunts to historic lighthouses (you can even stop for some alpacas).
White Rim Trail, Utah.
Located in Canyonlands National Park in southern Utah (one of the five national parks in the state), this trail is just under 100 miles in total - and completely all on dirt road. As Lonely Planet states, this is one rare bicycle gem, mostly due to its remoteness and overall beauty (there is one awesome viewpoint after another). Most people do the loop in a weekend, but with the beauty, great camping opportunities, and the desert silence, you might not ever want it to end.
Kentucky Bourbon Tour, Kentucky.
Probably a bike ride you hadn’t considered (everyone can bike between vineyards, but distilleries…) but one definitely worth experiencing. First off, it will take you along the scenic backcountry roads of Kentucky - a state many would not associate with biking. Add in stops to the six best distilleries in the state and you have one awesome route. In total it is only 30 miles, but after a couple of drinks, that distance might seem like very long or very short (depending on your level of tipsy-ness). Start in the town of Lexington at the Jim Beam distillery for the all-important route map, then head out onto the open road.
Pacific Coast Highway, Washington, Oregon, and California.
The longest ride on the list, and one of the most beautiful, this 980-mile route takes you along the incomparable Pacific Coast of the United States - through rainforest, rocky coastlines, redwood groves, and quaint seaside towns. Some of the best stops are the Hoh Rainforest on the Olympic Peninsula, Astoria and Cannon Beach in Oregon, and Avenue of the Giants and Mendocino in California. While you can theoretically do this ride in two weeks, we highly suggest spending at least three (maybe even four).
Autumn in Vermont, Vermont.
Fall might be one of the best seasons to ride: fewer people, cooler temperatures, and changing colors. All that is especially true when doing a ride through Vermont in September and October (except maybe the first, there might be a lot of people around, though likely not on the roads themselves). One great route is to start and end in Brandon, and along the way hit towns such as Middlebury and Shoreham (this should take about 99 miles directly). But on this ride, distance does not give you a good idea of time. Why? Because it is just soooo beautiful and scenic that you will want to stop and take as many pictures as possible (and grab a hot drink or too).
Cycling might be one of the best forms of exercise. Not only is it good for you physically, but also mentally and emotionally. There is something so tranquil and relaxing about going for a bike ride - even if it is just around your town or neighborhood. Luckily, the USA is full of awesome rides and amazing adventures. From the far off Pacific Northwest, to the deserts of Utah to the rolling hills of Kentucky. There is a perfect ride for everything. So grab a bike, a helmet, and your camera and get out and explore.
Find more inspiring rides in the book, Epic Bike Rides of the World by Lonely Planet.