Cycling for Body Magic

This is my Dutch bike – it’s big, heavy, but very comfortable to ride

Exercise sucks! Especially if you’re obese like me. The idea of going for a run or hitting the gym fills me with complete horror! But I recognise that I need to have some physical activity in my life, so I try to find some other ways of doing it.

The World Health Organisation recommends that all adults engage in at least 150 minutes of moderate-intense aerobic activity every week. And Slimming World has the Body Magic scheme to encourage exercise – ranging from 45 minutes a week for the Bronze level to 150 minutes for Platinum.

So how can I achieve these targets, and help my weight loss, without having to endure the hell of visiting a gym?

I don’t wait until I get home from work, decide I’m feeling too tired (or lazy) to go out and do exercise, and then spend the rest of the evening feeling guilty. Instead, I’ve found a way to build activity into my day. For me, that’s commuting to and from work by bike.

Cycling doesn’t have to be about lycra

A lot of people think that cycling is all about dressing up in skin-tight lycra and hitting the road on a fancy high-speed road bike. But there’s nothing to say you can’t commute by bicycle wearing normal clothes.

You can, of course, wear sports gear if you think you’re going to get really sweaty – as long as you have facilities to shower and change at work. But if not, it’s entirely possible to cycle in both formal and non-formal office attire. You just need to slow down a bit, so you don’t get so sweaty.

You’ll still get a work-out (similar to that you’d get from a brisk walk), but you’ll also be achieving something while you’re exercising – namely you’ll get to work. And depending where you live, it might even get you there quicker than a car!

Cycling in Dublin

My commute is about 7km each way, and it takes me about half an hour to cycle. I ride to work almost every day, so I get in over 5 hours of cycling in a typical week. So I’m more than meeting the W.H.O and Slimming World targets!

And with Dublin rush-hour traffic being what it is, it’s much faster to cycle than use any other form of transport. Driving would take at least 45 minutes, the bus around 80 minutes, and walking would take 90 minutes. So by cycling I’m also saving time!

I wear my normal work clothes on the bike, and don’t require any special equipment except maybe for a good set of waterproofs for the wet days. I also have a pannier bag that clips onto the back of the bag, and stops me from getting a sweaty back from wearing a backpack.

Is cycle commuting for you?

Of course there are many reasons why you might think that commuting by bike might not be for you: it’s too far, you’re too unfit, or it seems too scary with all the traffic on the roads.

Well I would say that anyone who lives within 10km of their work could potentially cycle quite easily. Fitness will come over time, and you can build up to it, maybe starting with 1-2 commutes by bike per week. And other traffic on the road might seem scary at first but you get used to dealing with it with experience.

The best advice for anyone considering cycling to work is to try out the route beforehand when the roads are quiet – perhaps at the weekend. Have a think about your route, because it might be quicker or safer to take a slightly different route than the one you would drive. There might even be short-cuts you can take on a bike that you can’t take by car. Also look for roads with segregated bike paths and bus lanes, as that’ll help make you feel a bit safer.

How a daily walk is helping boost my weight loss

You can lose weight with Slimming World by following the Food Optimising food plan on its own. However if you add in a bit of exercise – or as they call it, Body Magic – it can really boost your results!

By nature I’m a bit of a lazy oaf! I’m quite happy to plonk myself down on the sofa in front of the TV and not move for the rest of the day – save for the odd visit to the toilet or fridge. In fact, it has been known for me to come home from work on a Friday night, and not set foot outside the house until Monday morning, having just sat on my fat arse for the entire weekend!

I’m not a fan of exercise, and I don’t possess the gene that some others have that drives them to remain active throughout the day. But I’m not a moron, and I do understand that a bit of activity is good for me. It helps me feel bright and alert, and also burns a few calories off my body in the process.

The only problem is that I quickly lose interest in doing exercise. I may start with good intentions, but within a matter of weeks I’ve found excuses not to do it. For example, I joined a gym a couple of years ago, and even engaged the services of a personal trainer to put together a training programme for me. And at the beginning it all went well. I would stop in to the gym 2 or 3 times a week and do a full hour of cardio and weight training. However, after a while my enthusiasm started to wane, and I would find excuses not to go. And then I managed to injure both my knees, and that was the perfect to excuse to stop training for a while. And inevitably that ‘while’ ended up lasting for ever!

So in order to make sure I do some exercise and – most importantly – stick with it, is to build that exercise into my daily routine.

One great way is to commute to work by bike. I used to cycle to work every day – come rain or shine – about 7km each way. And by making cycling my means to transport, I built-in around 50 minutes of moderate exercise into my daily routine. And invariably my commute time was quicker than if I would have driven!

Unfortunately, I’ve not been working for the last few months, and so the cycling has fallen by the wayside. But instead, something else has happened to build some activity into my daily routine.

We got a dog!

Here’s a photo of the little fella. He’s called Alfie.

Alfie the dog

We rescued him from the pound about 10 weeks ago, and he’d definitely part of the family.

Having a dog means that you need to walk the dog, and so my daily routine now includes a 40-60 minute walk with the dog. And while he gets his daily exercise, I get mine too. Okay, so I’m not at the level where I’m training to run a marathon, but I am walking between 5 and 10 km every day.

I may not be breaking a sweat, but I can feel real benefits from getting out and about. My leg muscles are certainly getting much stronger, which must come from having to carry the rest of me around. I feel much more alert and positive after completing a walk. And I also find that a weight loss is easier to achieve during the week.

Walking a dog may not be for you – particularly if you don’t own a dog! But here are my top tips for including exercise in your day:

  • Pick an exercise that you can build into your daily routine. You’re much more likely to stick with it.
  • Pick an exercise that you enjoy. If you hate doing something then you’re eventually going to find excuses not to do it – a bit like me and going to the gym!
  • Pick an exercise target that’s achievable. Start small – even if it’s a 5 minute walk down the street, and the build up gradually. If you set yourself too tough a goal, you might get disheartened and give up.
  • Get outside. I find that walking on a treadmill or cycling on an exercise bike incredibly boring. But by getting outside you can explore your local area, and even meet interesting people. Every day when I walk the dog I seem to strike up a conversation with someone, and I’m not normally an outgoing person. And the weather isn’t often as bad as you think it is.
  • Find something that you can measure. Whether it’s a count of laps in the pool, the distance you cycle, or the time spent walking. It can often be a good motivational tool to measure what you do, and track your improvement over time. I have a Fitbit to help keep track of my steps, and I find that I challenge myself to get in 10,000 steps in a day (about 8km).