Integrating Exercise into Every Day

Here’s a confession: I used to have a gym membership.  I would shell out $58/mo for my YWCA membership to go work out on the same elliptical 3-4 times a week.  I’d sometimes take a yoga class.  I’d often lift weights.  I got in better shape, lost a little weight, but I NEVER enjoyed it.  I’d blast whatever peppy songs I’d been listening to lately on my iPod while I tried to forget about the fact that I was working out.  While I was doing this, I kept thinking, “This is it?  I’m going to have to waste 4-5 hours at the gym every week for the rest of my life?”  But I’m happy to tell you that this is not the case!  You do not need to be a slave to a gym that sucks up your money and time.

When I quit the gym something interesting happened: I stopped ‘working out,’ I got into better shape, and I enjoyed myself much more.  How?  I started integrating exercise into my everyday life and found that I get much more exercise than I did before, it’s more useful, and I actually enjoy it now.

Working out is boring.  There’s no way around it.  Working out, to me, is any individual activities that take place at a gym.  The sole intent of working out is to increase physical fitness, which is great.  I did it for 1.5 years.  While I enjoyed being more physically fit, I didn’t enjoy having to set aside time each week to spend at the gym plugging away on the elliptical machine and doing the same arm exercises.  It was so boring!

During the time I went to the gym, I biked quite a bit but never had to bike all that far.  I started discovering that biking can be an amazing useful tool to both get you places and serve as your exercise for the day.  Last summer I biked to work for several weeks, 12 miles each way, and was excited about the fact that I wouldn’t have to come home and go to the gym since that served as my exercise.

When I started grad school, I began biking 8 miles round trip 5 days a week.  I got in better shape, felt more fit, and saved time because my commute also counted as my exercise time.  The other part is that I enjoy biking outside; you get to look around and notice what people are doing and what’s happening in the neighborhood.  It’s much more interesting than staring at a wall in a gym.

Utilitarian exercise is also much more sustainable than recreational exercise.  Sure, I love to go for a sunny bike ride around the lake, go for a pleasant jog, or take a stroll downtown, but I don’t always have time to do those things.  On the other hand, I always need to get to school.  Biking is faster than taking the bus and allows me more flexibility in my schedule; therefore it is the obvious choice for school transportation.  Even when I’m not able to do recreational exercise for awhile, at least I’m still getting exercise, and usually a lot of it, because it is well integrated into my life.

I also don’t feel like I exercise all that much.  I do yoga about 5 times per week and I bike 30-50 miles per week, but it never feels like exercise.  When I bike places, it feels like I’m transporting myself while getting fresh air.  When I do yoga, it feels like a mindfulness practice that happens to move my body.  I sometimes think that I need to exercise more because I never register my physical activity as exercise; it’s simply what I do to get around or be happy.

It’s really hard to motivate yourself to do something several times every single week, especially when it’s not something you particularly enjoy.  Finding enjoyable exercise that can become well integrated into your life is a very positive way to ensure that even if you’re strapped for time, or tired, or cranky, you will still be getting the exercise that your body needs, probably without even thinking about it.  So how can you do this?  Get a bike.  Bike to the grocery store, to run errands, to work.  Walk to your friend’s house or to the library.  In the winter, go ice skating instead of sitting inside watching TV.  Spend time doing physically active things with friends: take a walk, go for a run, take a yoga class (hell teach each other yoga moves), climb a tree, or go rock climbing. Some of these things are free, which makes it a great way to be social while being frugal and healthy.

Once exercise is well ingrained into your life, you won’t even notice it’s there.  You’ll start exercising for recreation on top of for utilitarian purposes and become even healthier.  You’ll save time and money not going to a gym.  You’ll be sexier and more interesting.  I promise.

Why Biking is All Sorts of Healthy

Last Monday I got a new bike, my first road bike, it’s so great.  I don’t have a picture of it yet but found a picture online that is very similar, it’s posted above, isn’t it pretty?  I love bikes for all sorts of reasons which relate to the ways in which bikes make you healthier.  The thing I like most about bikes is that they’re pretty much accessible to everyone.  Minneapolis has a plethora of used bike shops, including the Hub Bike Co-op which is my favorite and where I bought my new bike for $250.  Bikes that’ll get you around can be found on Craigslist.  My old roommate used a $20 bike from Craigslist to commute for years.  Minneapolis has the NiceRide system which allows you to rent bikes from kiosks all over the city for commuting and recreation and the fees are $55/year for students and $65/year for everyone else.  This means that for all of the reasons I’m about to discuss, biking is a feasible way to embody your attitude about sustainability, frugality, and heath.

Bikes save you money.  Mr. Money Mustache did a great job of discussing all of the potential and theoretical ways in which bikes could save you money, but I’m going to get a bit more realistic.  Let’s calculate the average amount of fuel burned and money spent for an average American commute in a year.  To do this we’ll have to Google some things:

  • In 2009, the EPA reported that the average fuel economy in America reached 22.4 mpg.
  • The average commute in America is 15 miles.
  • Gas was $3.56 per gallon on average in 2011.

Driving to work every weekday for a year (50 weeks, accounting for some vacation time) at 30 miles/day in a 22.4 mpg car will result in 7,500 miles driven, 335 gallons of gas burned, and $1,193 spent on gas.  And that’s just commuting.  According to the Federal Highway Administration, Americans drive an average of 13,476 miles per year.  Just  replacing half of your non-commute related trips with biking would result in a yearly saving of $475.

You can start your transition to bike commuting slow by combining biking with taking the train/bus or by investing in a bike rack and driving part of the way way and biking from there, this would be a good way to save on parking if you work in a downtown area.  I started doing this a couple summers ago and eventually realized that the whole bike/train/bike arrangement took more time than biking alone, so last summer spent a fair number of weeks biking 12 miles each way to work.

The other obvious remedy for the 15 mile commute issue is moving closer to your place of work, finding a job closer to you, negotiating a 4 day work week (at 10 hours per day) to cut one full day of commuting out of your schedule, or trying to negotiate the ability to work from home.  I currently have a 4 mile commute and find that it’s the perfect distance to get some exercise in the morning and afternoon but not so long that I dread biking it every day.

Bikes are good for your health.  Biking for one hour at 10 mph will burn 540 calories for a 167lb, 37 year old man, and this is a fair bit slower than bikers usually ride.  Assuming you were to live about 5 miles from your place of work, biking 9 months out of the year (accounting for weather and winter), you would end up biking 1800 miles!  That’s far!  Spending time at the gym is quite tedious, and costs money, so biking as a commute would allow you to get rid of that gym membership and make the most of your time.  At $40/month that would be a savings of $480 a year, enough saved to buy a quite nice used bike!

Biking is a great way to spend time with friends and get out into your community.  When you have friends that bike, biking to events becomes part of the socialization time.  Spending time with friends makes you happier than driving someplace by yourself.  Biking is also a fun way to people watch and get exercise on your own.  I biked 10 miles today around the lakes and saw five people I knew in the process which made me feel very connected to my community and left me with a big goofy grin on my face for the majority of my ride.

Bikes are good for the environment.  Looking at our previous calculations, we see that commuting by car by an average American burns 335 gallons per year, which results in the release of 6365lbs of carbon dioxide.  If we cut all of our car trips, including commuting, by half we could save 300 gallons of gas from being burned, 5,700lbs of carbon dioxide from being produced, and $1,070!

Biking places takes initiative, and hard work, and muscles, but there are so many benefits individually and for the environment that I consider it completely worth it, even if I do end up getting stuck in the occasional rainstorm.