Why You Should Try Mountain Biking Right Now
Exercising sucks. I’ve always thought so. Yet I’m in pretty good shape these days. My secret: I don’t exercise much. Instead, I mostly play. Vigorously and often. Mountain biking is my latest (renewed) passion. I’m back into it in a big way after more than two decades of feeling too old.
And I gotta tell ya: No matter your age, ability or fitness level, you can’t beat a good trail ride for getting in shape and having a great time without the dreaded, unnatural, germ-infested, against-all-evolution act of exercising in a gym.
If you’re the cautious type, you’ll absolutely revel in the most casual trek away from the hubbub of life. You can easily ride miles farther than you’d ever hope to hike. Many communities have a mix of easy trails and longer or harder treks that lead to amazing natural sites you’d otherwise never encounter. I use apps like MTB Project, Gaia GPS and Strava to find new trails and track my distance and time.
Willing to put in a little effort? Pedaling up a mountain is an easy-on-the-bones aerobic and power workout. The reward of a good climb can be a mellow return trip or, depending on your comfort level and skill, a balls-out downhill plunge that engages every fiber of your being to concentrate the mind and control the bike, a thrill ride as exhilarating as any roller coast but with no lines.
My Secret to Staying in (Reasonable) Shape at 58
Something had to change, and that was the key to finding fresh motivation
Science says its good for you
While hiking is great for the body and the mind, mountain biking, if you attack the hills or simply pedal hard on the flats, will challenge the hell out of your aerobic power and build muscle. Each hill you’re forced to climb is an opportunity for some high-intensity interval training (HIIT), an all-out effort known to increase fitness even in short bursts of a minute or less.
The health benefits of mountain biking were extolled in the Health & Fitness Journal by John Acquaviva, PhD, a professor in the School of Sports Sciences at Wingate University, and a colleague:
“Going uphill challenges the leg muscles, whereas riding downhill engages the muscles of the arm, shoulder, chest, back, and abdomen. The uphill and downhill training also makes for a natural interval workout. Ascending will get the heart rate up, sometimes substantially — and often for several minutes if the incline is long, whereas descending or returning to level ground allows the heart rate to recover.”
New activities (or old ones anew) are great for keeping the brain sharp, too. I’m eating up videos from not-so-young experts like Alex Bogusky and learning that I had no clue how to properly turn, hop an obstacle or negotiate tricky drop-offs.
And as a bonus, the natural world is, all by itself, good for the mind, body and soul, science says. The value of simply being “out there” can’t be overstated.
The Amazing Benefits of Being in Nature
Better health. Lower stress. Enhanced creativity. Sheer joy. It’s all out there, and it doesn’t take long.
Everyone is doing it
The sport is seeing a resurgence in popularity. In 2020, tallies of mountain bikers on various U.S. trails were anywhere from double to five times higher than the year prior. My wife just got her first mountain bike and is learning. Our youngest son is shredding trails and leaving me in his dust. A couple weeks ago an old friend from high school made a two-day drive to join me on some insane rides in Sedona, God’s gift to mountain bikers.
We’re not the only folks out there. I’ve never seen so many men and women in their 40s, 50s and 60s on the trails. Some ride impressively, inspiringly, some just poke along with big smiles you can’t get from a couch.
I still do basic core strengthening at home most days: push-ups, crunches all manner of leg lifts and light weight work. But I don’t mind these brief, mundane workouts, because they have a purpose now: They help me ride longer, harder and faster.
And wow, that’s pure joy.