Biking a good way to exercise and improve health

Spring is slowly rolling into the region, and with the warmer temperatures, more of us are outside walking and biking. And that’s good for our health.

While we all know daily exercise makes us feel better and live longer, a new report shows that too few Western Upper Peninsula residents meet recommendations for adequate physical activity. A survey of 2,500 randomly sampled adults conducted last summer by Western U.P. Health Department found that 15 percent of the region’s adults report no leisure-time physical activity, and half of us don’t attain the recommended 150 minutes per week of aerobic exercise.

I know, who has time to go to the gym, and who wants to when the sun is shining and the flowers are blooming?

For a pleasant alternative, try walking, biking or working in the garden five times a week for 30 minutes or more. If you can bike to work or school, or walk on your lunch break, all the better, because you’ll be incorporating exercise into your daily routine and won’t have to make a lot of extra time for healthful physical activity.

My three favorite reasons for biking? It saves gas money, it burns 40-60 calories per mile, and I hear birdsong on my way to the office.

Along with wearing a bike helmet that fits, remember to ride a mechanically sound bike with working brakes and properly inflated tires, wear bright or reflective clothing, use a light and reflectors in fog or the low light of dawn and dusk, ride on the right shoulder or keep to the right in the traffic lane, and obey the rules of the road, including stop signs.

Bike to Work Day

Join me in celebrating the fifth annual Keweenaw Bike to Work Day, Thursday, May 16. Non-motorized commuters in Houghton, Hancock, Calumet and Lake Linden will find free snack stops and smiling volunteers in six locations from 7-9 a.m. and 4-6 p.m. New this year are stations provided by Portage Health on Campus Drive in Hancock, and on the Michigan Tech campus, sponsored by the MTU Transportation Institute. Many area schools will also participate with bike to school days and bike safety education during the week of May 13-17.

At the Bike to Work Day web site,, you can find event details including the locations of the snack stops, and also register for the event, which provides planners with information about your commuting route and makes you eligible for prizes donated by area bike shops.

Also at the KB2WD web site, there is a link to registration for the National Bike Challenge. If you plan to bike one or more times this year for transportation, sport or recreation, I encourage you to sign up at the bike challenge web site, where you can log your miles this summer. If your zip code is in Houghton or Keweenaw County, your rides and miles will earn points for our region, which is competing with communities across the country. Follow the link and directions at to get started.

Health Assessment Data

And finally, to learn more about local health statistics and trends, like the survey data cited at the beginning of this article, you can go to the health department web site,, to view or download the findings of a year-long regional health assessment project. Both the full 262-page report, and the Community Report, which is an 8-page magazine-style summary, are available there, free of charge.

The health department conducted the assessment in partnership with the Western U.P.’s five hospital health systems, two community mental health agencies, and substance abuse services coordinating agency. WUPHD serves the 71,000 residents of Baraga, Gogebic, Houghton, Keweenaw and Ontonagon counties, providing a broad array of public health and environmental health services.

I’ll see you on the bike path. Pedal safely!

Editor’s note: Ray Sharp is the Manager of Community Planning and Preparedness at Western U.P. Health Department