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The Benefits of Bicycling – 6 Steps in Turning it Into a Normal Exercise Regimen
The benefits of cycling for fitness and health are obvious. Any type of regular exercise regimen, followed weekly, is good for an individual’s long-term health. Exercise is beneficial to the human body. Sticking to a dedicated fitness regimen helps an individual improve their cardiovascular system and lowers the blood pressure within the body. In addition to following a diet and eating healthy, a routine weekly exercise regimen helps keep excess weight off.
I have been an avid cyclist for over 30 years. Instead of being given a car key for my 16th birthday, my parents went out and bought me a 10-speed bicycle. I know 10 speeds for a bicycle nowadays would be considered obsolete. But please remember that it was the summer of 1973. Although I ran track in high school and would be all about short-distance sprints by the time I graduated, I found a love for cycling. A few years later, while in college, I would have about five weeks off between when the school left after the semester finals were done and when I started my job as a summer camp counselor. During that five-week period, instead of sitting on the couch daily and watching television for hours at a time, I simply got off my bike and rode around the outskirts of the city where I lived at the time. My normal route was around 25-30 miles. It involved climbing several hills, but I felt invigorated after each workout.
As I mentioned earlier, I also raced track in high school and later college. After graduation, I continued the running regimen. However, I’ve turned into a distance runner, often hitting the streets for three- to four-mile workouts. I lived in New England during my 30s, and although I still ride my bike in the summer, it was impossible to do so when there were several inches of snow on the streets. So, I also ran a lot.
Eventually, all the long-distance running I did for about fifteen years caught up with me. The incessant pounding of my lower body on the sidewalks of those streets caused pain in my feet and knees. I also experienced Achilles tendon pain in my right leg. I knew I had to quit running, which I did, lest my Achilles tendon snap from the years of stress I put on it.
However, I have never given up on the bicycle. In fact, I’ve increased the amount of workouts on my bike to maintain a fitness level. This is one of the benefits of cycling for fitness and health. On a bicycle, the lower joints don’t experience the same amount of stress on them as they do in a person who is running. My feet, my knees, and especially my Achilles tendon don’t have anywhere near as much stress on them when I was running four times a week. I am now 52 years old. And several times a week I take my bike and ride it. The only stress I feel is climbing the hills that are part of my training route. And I feel invigorated at the end of my exercise regimen.
If you’re not part of a regular exercise regimen and are looking to get in shape, I suggest you consider cycling to suit your needs. I’ve outlined 6 steps, below, where you can turn cycling into something that will benefit you health-wise.
1). If you haven’t invested in any exercise regimen for several years, it’s always best to consult your doctor or primary care physician first. He/she will create an exercise routine to get you started.
2). You may already have an old bike that has been sitting in the garage for several years and is still functional. Take it out, take it to a reputable bike repair shop and let them take care of the maintenance work to get it back in good working order. Above all, you should have a bicycle that is safe to ride. If you don’t own a bicycle; whether it’s a road bike or an off-road bike, you can invest in one. You don’t need to invest thousands of dollars in a bike. To begin with, an investment of two to four hundred dollars in a new type of bicycle would be more than adequate.
3). Buy a good bicycle helmet before you start cycling. This should be mandatory. I know that I, personally, wouldn’t even think of getting on a bike without a helmet on. A good bicycle helmet would cost around $50-75. Many good helmets come with foam padded inserts that can be adjusted to fit your head size. I never want anyone to have a problem on their bike with regards to their safety. But, should an unfortunate incident happen; injuring a leg, arm, or shoulder would present fewer problems than if something were to happen to a person’s head. Protect your head. If the adults let the children go out on bicycles together, request that the little ones also go with helmets. Indeed, the adult should be a role model for a son or daughter, educationally, that riding in a bicycle helmet is an absolute necessity.
4). Take it slow and easy at first. Feasibly, you can’t expect to go out for a ten mile ride, completing the course in less than an hour when you initially start your cycling regimen. At first, your body won’t allow it. You may experience muscle fatigue upon completion. In fact, you’d do well to stretch your leg muscles as a warm-up before cycling. When you’re done, do some more stretching to get rid of any lactic acid that may have built up in your muscles during your run. Most importantly, start your regimen with short runs. Only cycle a couple of times a week to allow your body to build strength and endurance. Remember, Rome wasn’t conquered in a day.
5). Buy yourself a bottle of water and while you drive, drink plenty of fluids. Your body loses fluids during the normal sweating process. You want to keep yourself as hydrated as possible while riding. Also drink plenty of fluids after you finish your run to replenish the minerals you lost during your workout.
6). Remember to follow the rules of the road. Drive as close to the shoulder as possible on a road. I have the luxury, as part of my cycling journey, of riding on a clear, designated cycle path, and later on a cycle/running path where no motor vehicles are permitted. This many are not a possibility where you live. I’d also consider investing ten bucks in a rearview mirror that mounts to the left handlebar or one that attaches to your helmet. Also, wear a brightly colored shirt so that you can be seen by motor vehicle drivers. Obey all traffic laws, including stopping at traffic lights. Use appropriate hand signals when you know you will need to turn in traffic situations. I went on a cycling holiday to a well-known company specializing in the sector. The company’s bicycle tour guides taught us how best to point our turn signals, which would allow vehicle drivers to fully understand our intentions. This was, when making an imminent left turn; you would point your left arm straight with your index finger extended outward. When turning to the right, do the same movement with your right arm and right index finger extended outward. Perform these actions well in advance of when you would take your turn. I’ve heard of other turn signals, which frankly don’t explicitly notify the driver of your intentions. For example: simply hold your right arm straight up to indicate an impending right turn. This can be interpreted as a vague signal to the driver of a vehicle. Does this action mean you’re going to stop? Are you going to turn right? Are you waving to the driver, telling him that you are aware he/she is behind you? No, you should make your intentions clear by following the above practice of signaling a turning maneuver by you, the cyclist. Any other sign could lead to confusion for the driver of the vehicle and an unfortunate accident involving you the cyclist.
So, get out there and allow your body to benefit from a regular cycling exercise regimen.
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