Should I ditch my bike commute and walk instead?
January 8, 2016 10:39 AM   Subscribe

I'm trying to look at my commute in terms of best fitness bang for the buck. Biking gets me there faster, but it probably delivers zilch fitness-wise. Help me look at this differently.

Apart from weekends, my commute is my easiest chance to turn movement into benefit. Four days a week, I bike 5.36 miles for work (it occurs in increments like so: 1.68 mi out in the morning, work, return for lunch. Then 1 mi out in the afternoon, work, return home in the dark). The fifth day is 3.36 mi. In general, about 20% is coasting, 30% is steady pedaling and 50% is actual effort.

I get no sustained cardio, and I don't see any way to increase my heart rate unless I switch to real arm-swinging power walking (with occasional lunges?). To walk, I'd need at least 3x more commute time, more sensible shoes on my feet and a backpack to replace my bike basket. Would replacing all or part of my bike commute with walking be a better fitness choice for heart health?

Random FWIW: I cannot vary my bike route. In a perfect (and realistic) world, I will add 15-30 mins/day of yoga at home, plus a day or two of of cardio between Fri & Sun. I did C25K last year and finished a 5K (then I filled all that daylight time with a new job). While I'd like to lose 15 pounds (yes yes, I know, calories, nutrition, diet...), my primary goal is fitness and strength. I'm in my 40s and in good health. I don't have or want a fitbit; I do have an iPhone. My nutrition is good, generally no processed foods, though I probably eat too much meat and too few green things. I drink only water, plus morning espresso and occasional evening wine or beer. I don't smoke. I really don't do mornings, and any additional exercise tacked on to the end of my day would be by headlamp and completely interfere with limited weekday family time. Help me maximize my weekday benefit.
posted by AnOrigamiLife to Health & Fitness (13 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Additional options:
You can ban yourself from certain gears so the biking is less efficient.
You can carry more weight on the bike (useful gear, not weights) so it's more effort but you're Much More Prepared.

(Last I heard (though I'm not an expert and wasn't paying attention) repeated brief-but-high cardio is now thought to be as-or-more effective for fitness than longer sustained cardio. (needs citation)).

There are fitness phone apps that track you and provide audible feedback of the zombie horde you're trying to outrun. Maybe that would be a fun way to get to/from work? Running with a bag isn't fun, but if the zombies come, you'll need to. (Scratch that, not worth it to risk injury and add more impact to running)
posted by anonymisc at 10:53 AM on January 8, 2016 [1 favorite]

Walking can be a much greater impact on your joints than biking. I found that out the hard way last summer with daily 2 mile walks, and I'm in my 30s (but a desk job). So, knowing you are in your 40s, I would only caution that biking is much less impact on your knees than walking, if that is a concern for you.
posted by jillithd at 10:57 AM on January 8, 2016

If you're willing to spend 3x the time to walk, why not just bike for three times as long? For instance, a half hour bike ride going back and forth between home and work in the morning, and then do the rest of your commutes normally.

My ride to work is 8 miles, and I regularly double or triple that by adding on routes or doubling back on myself.
posted by punchtothehead at 11:02 AM on January 8, 2016 [5 favorites]

Could you walk the morning and home to lunch part, and bike the evening part, or vice versa?
posted by tchemgrrl at 11:07 AM on January 8, 2016 [2 favorites]

Pick a couple of days a week to skip social-lunch at home, and do a heavier bike ride that day? So off days you bike home like normal (and you eat, see your family, let the dog out, or presumably do some kind of commitment that means you have to be home every day) and then bike back to work. Then some days you bike home and let the dog out while eating an energy bar, and have a half hour free that you bike someplace more demanding than your commute, or do an extra back-and-forth to work (since you said your route can't vary), or just jog around your block.
posted by aimedwander at 11:22 AM on January 8, 2016

Sprint on your bike for the final ride home at night, going along with what anonymisc wrote. If you can sprint the other legs as well you can do that too, but being sweaty at work may not work out.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 11:34 AM on January 8, 2016

Continue biking but add a few minutes of strength-training bodyweight exercises at the beginning or end of each trip, such as pushups and squats. If there is a playground nearby, you can also do pullups on a swingset. Doing them fast will have the most impact.

Also nthing HIIT intervals on the bike, to the extent that your commute allows you to do so safely. I believe they're one of the most effective methods for weight loss.
posted by veery at 11:47 AM on January 8, 2016

For the same unit time, biking is more demanding than walking in terms of calories burned and aerobic capacity building. So replacing about 30 minutes of bike commuting with about 100 minutes of walking will burn more calories, but not as much as replacing 30 minutes of bike commuting with 100 minutes of biking that includes your commute (or 30 minutes of bike commuting + 70 minutes of other exercise that is more intense than walking).

For the sake of discussion, let's say you weigh 155 lbs. Your current bike commute burns about 200 calories and probably takes 30 minutes or less. Walking the entire distance at 3 mph would burn about 400 calories and take ~105 minutes. But biking at a slow pace for 105 minutes would burn more than 700 calories. Or biking to your first workplace and back, doing a 45 minute run at lunch, then biking to your second workplace and back would also burn nearly 700 calories in 105 minutes.

If you want to up your fitness, maximize evening family time, and minimize outlays on new equipment, my suggestion would be to throw in a half hour of more intense exercise at lunch time, probably alternating between extra miles on the bike and a jog a few days a week. If you think you could fit in 40 minutes mid-day to walk 1.7 miles total to come home from workplace #1 and the back out to workplace #2, you've got 40 minutes to spend with a 10 minute bike home and back out + 30 minutes of additional biking, running, do the occasional bodyweight workout at home, etc.
posted by drlith at 11:50 AM on January 8, 2016 [1 favorite]

Walking 5+ miles every day is going to take HOURS. I mean, maybe if you only work 6-8 hours a day in a physically undemanding setting where your time is mostly your own and have no other interests or relationships to maintain?

For a while in college I was in the habit of walking rather than taking the bus for my two-mile work/school commute, and it took me about an hour. I'm a brisk walker and this was in New York City, which is optimized for pedestrians and has a lot of local etiquette about foot traffic. Based on my calculations, it is minimally going to take you close to an hour to walk to work in the morning, the same to go home for lunch, then half an hour back to work, and another hour home at night.

Also, I mean, don't get me wrong, walking is good for you and all, but it's not notably more intensive than biking. Certainly not enough to make it worth sucking three hours out of your day.

What about running/jogging all or part of your commute? Even if you average 10-15 minutes per mile, things become a lot more efficient. It's also a demonstrably better workout. Also, what about riding harder? Get a fixie or single-speed bike. Take the long way or choose streets that require you to work harder. Ride faster.

If that won't work, and you're desperate to do more than just biking to work as your daily exercise, the best thing to do would be to spend half an hour or an hour in the gym every day. It's still far less of a time-suck than walking five miles a day, and you get more bang for your "buck" so to speak.
posted by Sara C. at 12:03 PM on January 8, 2016 [3 favorites]

Do you need to carry things to/from the office at lunchtime? If not, the way I'd hack this is by biking to & from work in the morning and evening, and alternating jogging & sprinting home for lunch and fast walking (as much as your stomach full of lunch allows) on your way back to the office.
posted by Jaclyn at 12:05 PM on January 8, 2016 [1 favorite]

Ditto those above saying intervals of high intensity on the bike. Interval training is hugely efficient compared to steady rate. Even short flat-out sprints of 30 to 90s are highly beneficial.
posted by bonehead at 12:05 PM on January 8, 2016

When I needed to lose weight one of the things I did was to replace part of my bike commute with walking. I noticed an improvement in my cardio and the weight started to peel off (very slowly-- the only other change I made was cutting way down on meat). It worked for me.
posted by frumiousb at 2:47 PM on January 8, 2016

If you want your commute to be sustained cardio, then it sounds like you need higher gearing for your bike. This is probably pretty inexpensive/simple to do. It would also make your commute faster.
posted by bradbane at 12:35 AM on January 9, 2016

« Older Learning Latin, sans school   |   The most convenient way to play ripped or... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.