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How Motorcycle Riding Improves Physical Health

This blog post is dedicated to every rider who’s sick to death of those “motorcycles are so dangerous” conversations

by Dr. Pamela Reilly from goodworkswellness photos by Marcus Cuff
3/3/2017


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This blog post is dedicated to every rider who’s sick to death of those “motorcycles are so dangerous” conversations, to every mother who’s convinced her son or daughter is insane for riding, and for anyone who needs a really good excuse to go out and buy a bike. The bottom line is that riding a motorcycle is a form of low-impact exercise that improves muscle tone, can assist with weight loss, and has a multitude of health benefits. These health benefits include but are not limited to:

Healthier, stronger knees and thighs: A well-known orthopaedic surgeon in Indy once told me that motorcycle riders have fewer knee problems because riding a bike strengthens key muscles used to hold the patella and other bones in the knee in place. He told me that riding a motorcycle may reverse knee pain and problems and can most definitely prevent them. Most of the key muscles used to hold knee bones in place reside in the thigh. Ever notice that chicks that ride bikes have nice thighs? There’s a reason! Additionally, backing a bike into a parking spot, especially uphill, is basically like doing leg presses with a 600 pound weight. It works!
 
  • Improved core strength: Again, all of the activities involved in steering a bike, moving it at slow speeds, etc., serve to strengthen muscles in the abdomen. It’s more fun that situps!!
  • Increased insulin sensitivity:Because riding a motorcycle is a low-impact form of exercise, people who ride have improved insulin sensitivity for up to eight hours after a ride. Improved insulin sensitivity has a profound impact on weight loss, because insulin is a fat storage hormone. Having improved insulin sensitivity means your body will produce less insulin to counteract carbohydrates or to lower blood sugars, which means your body will be signaled to store less fat. The improved insulin sensitivity is also of great importance to anyone with Type 2 diabetes. (See my post,Diabetes and the Art of Motorcycle Riding for info on how riding a bike significantly lowers blood glucose levels.)
  • Calorie burning: Riding a bike burns calories. Period. Getting everything ready for a ride takes time and burns calories, but there’s more. Think about it … it requires effort while riding to maintain balance, shift, brake, control the clutch, battle headwinds, etc., and that’s AFTER you burn calories backing the bike out of the garage! Riding into a headwind burns a significant amount of calories as your body tenses muscles to fight the wind and stay on the bike. This constant resistance exercise not only burns calories but serves to strengthens those muscles, which ultimately increases your metabolism. Additionally, the physical effort exerted while turning, especially at higher speeds, can be significant. Folks who ride motocross or race motorcycles can burn up to 600 calories per hour; the rest of us burn around 200-300 calories per hour. Not bad! (Note to passengers: You burn zero calories per hour while riding passenger on a cruiser, and potentially up to 50 calories per hour while riding passenger on a sport bike. Maybe it’s time to consider getting your own bike!)
  • Improved neck strength: This one is limited to those riders who wear helmets and those who have taken the time to properly fit themselves to their bike with the correct handle bars, seat, foot pegs, etc. Riding a bike that doesn’t “fit” well can actually cause back pain and destroy proper alignment. Make sure your bike fits you! Wearing a helmet for a few hours a day would strengthen your neck whether you ride or not. Wearing it while riding, especially if you don’t have a windshield to shelter you from the wind, requires significant strength. I’m happy to say, much to my chiropractor’s chagrin, I was able to reverse whiplash simply by riding my bike and wearing a helmet. (I never ride without one.) Strengthening my neck muscles served to pull my neck vertebrae back into alignment and back into the proper curvature. That is a therapy I can live with!!!
  • Mental outlook: Motorcycle riders usually report returning from a ride feeling energized and happy. Many riders refer to their motorcycle as their “therapist.” Riding a motorcycle has a wonderful way of releasing endorphins that serve to boost mood and improve outlook. The time spent on a bike also provides valuable sun exposure, known to increase Vitamin D levels which are known to be powerful mood enhancers. Additionally, the hours of alone time spent on the back of a bike either allows folks to completely escape from their problems or allows them to work through problems and consider issues from different perspectives. I know more than one rider who hops on their bike and takes a ride when they have an issue needing consideration. (This does not, of course, apply to issues causing great distress.)

That’s it! Riding a motorcycle has definite health advantages, both physical and emotional. As always, ride smart. Get thoroughly trained before starting to ride and then take time to practice on back roads before hitting main thoroughfares. Take your time and don’t try to beat lights or get in front of slow drivers. As always, NEVER drive while under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Even one beer can affect reaction time enough to impair shifting, clutch operation and turning ability. Just don’t do it.

I’m off to ride. Have a great day!

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