Sunday, 16 August 2009

World bike bog snorkelling championships

Biking through a muddy bog wearing lead weights isn't exactly what most people like to do with their weekends.

But for some people the World Mountain Bike Bog Snorkelling Championships is a must-do event.

In the Powys town of Llanwrtyd Wells, cyclists ride along the bottom of a 6ft deep peat bog wearing a mask and snorkel. Not my idea of fun I have to say.

Competitors first added a mountain bike to the bog-snorkelling proceedings in 2005 and it has been growing in popularity ever since. Those who accept the challenge use a bike prepared with a lead-filled frame and water-filled tyres to ensure grip on the pond bottom. A far cry from saving a few grams here and there on a road bike.

And talking of road bikes, it's time I got out on mine.

Tuesday, 11 August 2009

Cycle away from stress

By Matthew Barbour, Cycling Plus

Whatever the reason for your cycling, one thing’s for sure – your two-wheel habit can be as good for your state of mind as it is for your body.

“Cycling is one of the most effective treatments for stress and in many cases has been proven to be as effective as medication – if not more so,” says Neil Shah, psychotherapist and director of the Stress Management Society.

“Over four times more GPs now prescribe exercise therapy as their most common treatment for stress and depression when compared to three years ago.”

In an age where we’re never more than an arm’s length from our mobiles and BlackBerries, stress is a bigger issue than ever. According to a recent CBI/Axa survey, stress is the single biggest cause of absence from work, costing the UK economy a staggering £4 billion a year.

“All too often, people look for a cure to stress once the horse has bolted, when it’s much healthier to develop ways to deal with stress on a day-to-day level before it gets to that stage,” Shah says.

“Riding a bike is ideal because it’s so accessible and achievable – and the mountain of scientific evidence pointing towards its stress-busting properties is growing by the day.”
Mental boost

Perhaps the best known mental exercise boost is the ‘runner’s high’ experienced by endurance athletes, now proven by German researchers to be more than a rather pleasant figment of the imagination.

University of Bonn neurologists visualised endorphins in the brains of 10 volunteers before and after a two-hour running session using a technique called positive emission tomography (PET).

Comparing the pre- and post-run scans, they found evidence of more opiate binding of the happy hormone in the frontal and limbic regions of the brain, areas known to be involved in emotional processing and stress.

“There’s a direct link between feelings of wellbeing and endurance exercise of all kinds, and for the first time this study proves the physiological mechanism behind that,” says study co-ordinator Professor Henning Boecker.

And because the runner’s high only seems to kick in after at least an hour’s exercise, ironically you’re more likely to experience it in the saddle than on foot!

The mind-body connection doesn’t stop there. Researchers from Illinois University in the US found that an improvement of only five percent in cardiorespiratory fitness from aerobic exercise led to an improvement of up to 15 percent in mental tests and ability to deal with stress.

“It boosts blood flow – and, in turn, oxygen – to your brain, which fires and regenerates receptors, explaining how exercise helps ward off Alzheimer’s,” says study author Professor Arthur Kramer.

And when it comes to rhythm, cycling knows no equal. “Stress makes your heart beat faster, which leads to shallow, fast breathing, a build-up of CO2 and a lack of oxygen in the brain, leading to more stress,” says Shah.

“Cycling actually forces you to regulate your breathing, as well as to breathe deeper to expel any lingering CO2 – both key methods used to alleviate stress in non-riders, so you’re practising proven clinical techniques.”

And, according to University of Bristol psychologists, expanding your lungs lifts your diaphragm, taking pressure off the nerve centre in your solar plexus and relieving the stress on your central nervous system.
Sleep it off

A common problem with stress is finding the ‘off’ switch, and without sufficient sleep that just isn’t possible, according to Professor Jim Horne from the Sleep Research Centre at Loughborough University.

“Reducing regular sleep by just one hour each night can lead to a spike in the stress hormone cortisol, which can prevent deep, regenerative sleep, making it even harder to sleep,” he says. “Exercise is the one factor that has been shown to redress that imbalance.”

So those hill intervals won’t just knacker you out in the short-term, they’ll also help you catch some quality shut-eye. “Exercising outside also exposes you to daylight, which helps get your circadian rhythm back in sync,” says Horne.

And the social side of cycling could be doing you as much good as the exercise. UCLA researchers found that socialising releases the hormone oxytocin, which buffers the ‘fight or flight’ response to calm you down.

Another study from Harvard Medical School found those with the most friends cut their risk of death by more than 60 percent, reducing blood pressure and strengthening the immune system.

The results were so significant, researchers concluded, that not having close friends is as detrimental to your health as smoking or carrying extra weight. Factor in cycling and you’ll be fighting fit for a long time to come.

Saturday, 8 August 2009

Cheap Bikes from Asda etc...

...or bike shaped objects (BSO) as they are better known. With the increased interest in cycling, the number of chap bikes on the market has has also increased. But are they worth buying? According to the following blog, the £70 bike from Asda is definitely not. Asda bike - the first ride

This is a great shame as Asda’s aim to sell bikes at no profit to encourage everyone to get on their bikes is a laudable one. The great pity about this is that people will be tempted by the cheap prices to give cycling a go and then consign their BSO to the back of the garage or garden shed after the first attempt. Far better to spend a few more pounds on something that is enjoyable to ride.