Get on the Path to Happiness

Editor’s Note: One of the missing voices in bicycle planning in the Twin Cities is college students. This series aims to include the perspectives of a generation that is much less likely than their parents to own vehicles. The authors are Macalester students enrolled in the “Bicycling the Urban Landscape” course. The overarching objective is to provide intellectual and active engagement with bicycling, including understanding transportation politics, equity, bicycle culture, local, national, and global trends in bicycling, and steps toward increased bicycle mode share locally and globally. This piece was contributed by Zach Moore.

Finding happiness on your bike! Photo courtesy of Rails to Trails.

Finding happiness on your bike! Photo courtesy of Rails to Trails.

As you may know, doctors and researchers have attributed innumerable health benefits to biking. Recently, researchers at King’s College in London compared sets of identical twins and found that “those who did the equivalent of just three 45-minute rides a week were nine years ‘biologically younger’ even after discounting other influences, such as body mass index (BMI) and smoking.” The physical benefits of riding a bike are well documented but did you know about the mental benefits? There has been a surge in bike commuters over the last decade, especially in urban areas, due to expanding biking infrastructure and the ideals of the growing, environmentally conscious, creative class. Amidst this biking craze that is taking over America, researchers are starting to look at the benefits of biking beyond the perks of massive, toned legs and that awesome feeling you might get knowing you’re not contributing to climate change. It turns out that scientists are made to believe there are a myriad of benefits associated to your psychological well-being as well. Is America missing out on the key to a healthier AND happier life?

It has been well documented that exercising and spending time outside are linked to improved subjective mood and well-being by means of reducing stress and anxiety, improving self-esteem, and increasing energy and positive engagement. Exercising outside releases toxins from the body and produces hormones that make you feel like a better you. Moreover, the positive impacts of biking are compounded by the positive impacts of not having to drive a car every day. Navigating city traffic is mind-numbing, enraging, and anxiety-inducing. I have probably lost more calories yelling at other cars on I-94 during rush hour traffic than I ever have from riding a bike. Even worse, scientists are attributing a plethora of health issues to traffic congestion. New public-health studies and laboratory experiments suggest that “at every stage of life, traffic fumes exact a measurable toll on mental capacity, intelligence and emotional stability”. In addition to injuring brain cells key to learning and memory, these fumes are also being associated with rises in Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and many other diseases. According to a study conducted by MIT, there were 1,171 premature deaths in 2005 caused by air pollution in the Minneapolis- St. Paul alone. Given that most people need to get around town for work or recreation, biking is the easiest way to avoid city traffic and incorporate physical activity into your daily routine. And there’s no better place to do it than the Twin Cities.

In the latest edition of Bicycling, Minneapolis was ranked the 6th most bike friendly city in America. The quickly expanding biking infrastructure is creating an equitable and safe biking network throughout the metro area, giving Minneapolis one of the highest rates of urban cycling. Reportedly, nearly 5% of commutes to Minneapolis are done via bikes. In addition, the vibrant bike culture in the Twin Cities offers opportunities for all ages to get outside and involved in the community through open street festivals and charity events. There is a reason for everyone to get out and explore the twin cities, whether it be for recreation, socializing, or work.

In the rural Illinois town I come from, biking was never an option, unless you wanted to test your luck against a 400hp gas guzzling bicycler mower on a gravel country road. As a newcomer to the Twin Cities, the network of biking paths have allowed me to explore the city and create community. It felt amazing to be able to go outside to ride a bike and connect with other bikers on the streets through subtle gestures or brief conversations at a red light. I found a sense of identity, almost as if I belong to a larger movement, through biking and finally felt like I belonged to a community. For me, biking helped fill a gap of isolation that many experience when moving to a new city. But the benefits are endless and different for everyone.

So get outside and take a bike ride, whether it’s a ride through the park, a commute to work, or a community event. Join the movement towards a happier, healthier lifestyle. With the known physical and mental benefits of biking and the increasing safety and accessibility of bike lanes in the twin cities, we should all be thinking about putting down our keys and picking up a helmet.


Macalester Student Perspectives

About Macalester Student Perspectives

Contributing writers to this column were college students enrolled at Macalester College in Saint Paul. These posts were part of classes in the Environmental Studies, Geography, and Urban Studies Programs.