Preparing to bike as a family this summer? Biking is a fun, eco-friendly way for all ages to experience the outdoors. Whether your family lives in an urban area, a suburb or rural community, biking can be done anywhere, and is a great way for kids to learn their way around their neighborhood or local park. Familiarize yourself with the benefits of biking and brush up on your safety by considering these four things.
While kids likely won't think much about the health benefits of biking, parents can feel good knowing that biking is one of the healthiest activities their children can partake in. Biking improves muscle tone and function, and not just in the legs. Arm muscles are worked simply by being kept in a continuous upright position as they grip the handlebars. Core muscles, such as abdominal muscles and those in the lower back, get a workout from maintaining a bike's balance. It's the kind of workout that's easy to overlook, but may well be felt after a long ride is over.
Biking also helps to improve cardiovascular health, a point that should be of particular interest to parents. A 2016 study found that people who biked regularly lowered their risk of cardiovascular disease by nearly thirty percent. Improved heart health also means an improvement in overall endurance--something that just about every parent could use more of.
Biking also functions as an excellent form of stress relief. In 2008, a team of German scientists found that prolonged exercise, such as running, causes the brain to release "feel good" hormones, which result in the famous "runner's high," or feelings of deep stress relief and satisfaction after workouts. Biking can produce these same kinds of hormones. Because stress impacts both kids and adults, biking may help improve the mental health of the entire family.
In spite of the common knowledge that cars are bad for the planet, modern Americans are purchasing more vehicles than ever. Biking is a great alternative to driving, as bikes produce none of the harmful emissions that cars do. If you live in an area with walking or biking trails, use them to get around on days when the weather is nice.
Rather than driving kids to see their friends across the neighborhood, encourage them to bike there on their own. If there are stores within biking distance of your home, bike there to do your shopping, and encourage the kids to come along. Teach them to use the bike racks outside of stores, and proper parking lot etiquette, when riding. Leading by example is a great way to show children that cars are not the only viable means of transportation.
The modern world is full of technological distractions that can make it difficult to get kids outside. Convincing kids to leave their smartphones behind to partake in a family biking outing might be challenging, especially if those kids are teenagers.
But pressing the issue could be worth it. Science has proven that partaking in activities with our loved ones strengthens emotional bonds. Things like traveling together, laughing together, and partaking in new experiences together can measurably improve family relationships. These sorts of bonds are vital for every stage of children's development, even into their teenage years.
According to a report from HealthDay News, cycling and other wheeled activities, such as skating or scootering, send 400,000 U.S. children to the emergency room each year. Of the 1,600 parents surveyed in the report, it was found that 40 percent don't make their children wear helmets when participating in such activities.
The numbers speak for themselves. Always make sure that kids wear helmets when biking, even if you are met with resistance. Healthy habits are learned when kids are young, so be sure that you are setting a good example by always wearing a helmet yourself.
Depending on where your family is biking, it may be a good idea to invest in other wearable safety equipment, such as elbow and knee pads. This is advisable in extremely rocky or gravely areas, or if your family is planning to bike downhill at high speeds.
It is also important to "dress" your bike as safely as you dress your family. Be sure that all family bikes are fitted with reflectors, so that they can be easily seen in low light. Even though it isn't advisable for children to bike at night, your family could still find themselves in low-lighting conditions, either by running into fog, rain, or by being forced to be out longer than planned. Every family bicycle should also have a bike bell, and kids should be instructed how to properly use them to avoid collisions with pedestrians and other bikes. In many places, bike reflectors and bike bells are considered important enough that they are required by law.
Wearing helmets, avoiding low-light conditions, and adding reflectors and bike bells to family bikes are the most simple, basic steps to take when pursuing cycling safety for your family. Young kids will need to be instructed in proper road safety while they are first learning to ride, but should pick up on things quickly enough to be ready for family biking adventures by the time their training wheels come off.