Start easy, go slow and stick with it for health

Bicycling is a great way to maintain a fit and trim body. However, beginning cyclists who are out of shape and carrying extra pounds may jump on a bicycle, pedal around the neighborhood and decide cycling is hard work. Often as not, they quit after their first couple of rides.

Extra weight is a lead anchor to a cyclist. If you have seen a bicycle race on television, such as the Tour de France, you will notice that the riders are as thin as jockeys. Weight is their enemy.

Conversely, cycling can be the enemy of excess weight, helping you trim off those excess inches around the belly or hips. Yes, turning those pedals will be hard at first, but with every pound you lose, the pedal stroke will get easier. So, ride, ride, ride!

A road cyclist burns about 40 calories per mile while pedaling at 15 mph on flat terrain. If you were in shape and could commit to 10 hours of cycling a week, you could burn off 6,000 calories in seven days.

That's a lot of calories considering you can lose a pound of body fat for every 3,200 calories burned.

Ten hours a week at 15 mph is not very realistic for most beginning cyclists. However, slower speeds and shorter duration rides still burn calories and reduce weight, and you'll gradually improve muscle tone for increased distance and speed.

Based on a formula developed by physiologist James Hagberg, Ph.D, a close approximation of calories burned can be calculated by using a coefficient (calories/pound/minute) for your cycling speed and multiplying it by your weight.

For example, if you weigh 170 pounds and your average speed is 10 mph (170 X .0355), you would be burning about six calories per minute or 363 calories per hour. (Here are some other coefficients: .0295 @ 8 mph, .0426 @ 12 mph, and .0512 @ 14 mph).

If you want to burn more calories per minute, add hills to your route. It's estimated that 22 extra calories are burned for every 100 feet of elevation gained. Start on gradual slopes and work into steeper climbs.

If you're considering cycling to lose weight, start with short, slow, easy rides at first and then gradually work into longer, slow, easy rides. The next progression would be to mix gradual hills into the routes and increase the average miles per hour you ride.

Even though you're cycling to lose weight, it's still extremely important to refuel the body with carbohydrates and energy drinks. The more you ride the more you need to refuel. So, the reward for more miles is that you get to eat more. Just make sure the food is nutritious and of smaller proportions than you might currently be consuming.

For those just starting to use cycling as a weight-loss routine, it's important to rest at least two days a week. On those rest days, work on core strength training with exercises such as push-ups, situps, squats, etc. Also build a stretching program into your daily pre- or post-ride routine.

Although fall is a great time to start a cycling routine for weight loss, winter is less conducive for getting out on the road. Often, people lose weight, quit cycling for the winter and put the weight back on, then have to start over again when spring arrives. I highly recommend purchasing an inexpensive wind trainer that you can set up in your house or garage. You can set your bike on it and pedal all winter. See the Nov. 2005 column I wrote (at on indoor cycling.

Thanks to the non-weight-bearing aspects of cycling, heavy people can burn calories without pounding their bodies and wearing out joints like they might do running or walking.

Give cycling a try if you want to lose some pounds. Start easy, go slow, burn calories, reduce the fat and watch the numbers on the scale decrease over time. It's not an overnight fix, but a long-term road to a lighter, healthier body.

Bicycling enthusiast Bob Korfhage of Phoenix is a former president of Siskiyou Velo bicycle club.

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