Friday, May 10, 2013

Improve your health and wealth at the same time

Does this look like your daily commute?  I hope not.
Three years ago, I moved closer to my workplace.  This has truly been a wonderful blessing.  I cut my then 23 mile (50-minute) daily freeway commute down to my now 5.7 mile (15 minute) short commute on surface streets.  Moving closer to work and cutting out 70 total minutes from my daily commute has been one of my best, most life changing personal decisions.

I absolutely hated the traffic on my previous commute.  Stop and go, bumper-to-bumper, mind numbing, soul draining traffic.  Counting the time spent in my car, my 8 hour work day was effectively transformed into a 10 hour work day.  Traffic jams would delay my travel time by up to 30 minutes.   I will admit I even “cheated” the system by hopping in the carpool (HOV) lane by myself on many occasions.  By the time I would get home, I would be physically and mentally exhausted.   

For working individuals, about 50% of your waking hours during weekdays is dedicated to being at work.  If you’re commuting ~50 min each way to and from work, you’re effectively now working 6 days a week (~1.6 hours per day x 5 days = 8 hours).  It’s no wonder so many people complain that they don’t have enough time to work out, read books for leisure, relax, or cook dinner.

The 2011 census found that the average one-way commute across the country is more than 25 minutes.  Roughly 1 in 4 commuters leave their home county for work.  The average American over the age of 18 spends 18 hours and 31 minutes per week in their car, which averages out to 2 hours and 38 minutes per day.  Think about all that you could accomplish if you had a few extra hours daily.

The Gas Buddy Trip Calculator tells me that my previous commute would cost me $8.41 a day (at today’s gas prices), or around $168 a month (20 work days).

My total round trip costs with my current driving commute is now only $2.47 per day, $49 a month.  By moving closer, I saved $5.94 a day, $119 a month.  

Compound this fuel cost savings for 10 years at 7% and I will have saved $20,597.  This is not counting the guaranteed rising increase in the price of gasoline in the next decade.

While moving closer to work is great, that’s not the main point of discussion in this post.  

Today I am going to talk about riding your bike to work, an activity I used to think was only for hippies.

When I was younger, I used to love riding my bike.  From Junior High school up until I got my first driver’s license, I used to ride my bike 4 miles to school and 4 miles back home every single day.  I would ride in the hot summer and in the rainy Southern California winters.  Part of the reason for biking daily was because my family could not take me to school nor pay for bus passes, but the biggest reason was because I simply loved the thrill of riding my bike.  

When you’re not old enough to drive a car, your bike can be the ultimate source of freedom.  My friends and I used to ride our bikes everywhere: to the mall, the movies, the arcade, and more.

A few weeks ago I became convinced after reading Mr. Money Mustache's post on biking that I should try riding my bike for fun, errands, and maybe even to work.  

Three years ago I bought a brand new bike to train for two mini triathlons that some friends and I competed in.  Shortly afterwards, I stopped riding my bike and it sat in the garage of my parents' home, collecting dust and spider webs.
My awesome bike
For the last 2 weeks, I have been training for the moment that I could ride my bike to work.  I’ve taken my old bike to get a tune up, changed the inner tubes, and lubed up the gears.  I’ve done several rides around my neighborhood to get accustomed to properly shifting gears when going up and down hills.

When I first mentioned to people that I was thinking of riding my bike to work, there were plenty of naysayers who disapproved of my idea:

“It’s too far, you’ll never make it (while rolling eyes).”

“You’re going to get to work all sweaty.”

“Why ride your bike when you can just drive?”

I’ve found that most people can’t comprehend why someone would want to ride their bike to work when they have a perfectly good working vehicle.
Most people don’t realize the benefits that bike riding can offer:
  • You will spend less money on gas and your vehicle will last longer (less wear and tear). 
  • You will be doing your part to save planet Earth.  Bikes have zero emissions, and are much better for the environment than driving a vehicle.
  • Your health will improve dramatically with this low impact exercise.  This will lower your future health care costs.

Last night I decided that I was ready to bike to work.  I excitedly woke up early, packed my office clothes and lunch into my backpack, and hopped on the bike.  I set the stopwatch on my phone (to time my route) and just went for it.
Let me tell you, the ride was incredibly invigorating and peaceful.  I felt so alive having the wind blow on my face and run through my hair as I peddled and squeezed my leg muscles.  I felt like I was young again.  It was great hearing the early sounds of birds chirping and feeling the sun on my skin.  For someone who goes to the gym only 1 to 2 days a week, it felt great to get my heart rate up for a sustained amount of time.

My ride to work took me 40 minutes and my return trip home took me 44 minutes.  It was cool in the morning and I didn’t even break a sweat getting to the office.  The ride was filled with a good mix of uphill climbs and downhill runs.  I’m not ashamed to say that at one point on the way home, I had to get off my bike and push it up a very steep hill.  I did break a sweat going home since the sun was out.  Overall, I got a great workout and felt like I really accomplished something.  I am sure I will only get quicker and more efficient with time.

Here are some informal statistics that I noticed on my bike commute today:
  • I only passed by 4 bikers in the morning, and 1 in the afternoon
  • Over 90% of vehicles I passed were occupied by a single driver
  • About 25% of vehicles I passed were fuel inefficient trucks, again operated by only a single driver
At one point, I passed by an incredibly obese woman driving a Ford F150 and stuffing her face with a donut.  How ironic.

As I mentioned earlier, the Gas Buddy Trip Calculator tells me that my daily round trip driving cost is only $2.47.  If I only bike 1 day a week, I will save $9.88 a month.

If I were to ride my bike 2 days a week, that would save me $19.76 per month ($2.47 x 2 days a week x 4 weeks a month).  Over a 10 year time period, I will have saved $3,420. 

If I were to ride my bike 3 days a week (my ultimate goal), that would save me $29.64 a month, and can save me $5,130 over a 10 year time period. 

While saving a few extra bucks is great, the biggest benefit that I can foresee is the improvement in my health.  I already consider myself pretty healthy, since we switched to a mostly vegetarian diet.  I’m far from overweight, but I definitely don’t do as much exercise as the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) recommends: 150 minutes a week of moderate activity or 75 minutes a week of vigorous activity, and strength training exercises at least twice a week.

How many people do you know get the HHS recommended amount of exercise each week?  

Do YOU get the HHS recommended amount of exercise each week? 

Biking to work relieves me of doing cardio routines at the gym.  Riding on one of those fake bicycles or elliptical machines is boring to me.  Having an anti-sedentary lifestyle will provide me with a potential lifetime free of chronic conditions associated with obesity such as hypertension, heart disease, diabetes, or high cholesterol.  Lack of physical activity is one of the leading causes of preventable death in the world.  Exercising more can even prevent colon cancer. 

Riding your bike will literally save your ass!

Not everyone may live as close to his or her work as I do.  But if you’re moving soon, consider the benefits of living close to your work, within a bike-riding radius of 5 to 7 miles.

If moving close to work is absolutely not an option, consider other times in the week where you can consciously choose to ride your bike instead of drive.  For instance, is the grocery store only half a mile away?  You can load your groceries in a bike trailer and tow them behind your bike.  What about riding your bike to the library or to the restaurant?  What about riding your bike on the street instead of cycling on a fake bike at the gym?

For now, I am going to bike to work at least 1 day a week, then slowly see if I can increase my endurance.  I don’t want to go all out and overexert myself with a sudden jump to 5 days a week just yet.  My legs already feel pretty sore after my first ride. 

I hope I’ve empowered you.  Now get off your ass and start bike riding.

You can follow up on my bike riding with an update here.

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