It may come as a surprise to my friends who didn’t know me when I got out of college, but I was 25 pounds heavier than I am now, at age 53. You may be thinking, “Of course she was. Everyone is fat when they’re in college.” Except that I am now 7 pounds lighter than I was in high school.
A chronic dieter, I had accepted the fact that I was muscular and would never become the lithe individual that I longed to be.
That changed when I started riding a bike after having our second child. I remember distinctly a friend commenting that she thought my legs looked defined and muscular, about a month after I started riding. That one observation was enough positive reinforcement to my vanity to encourage me to keep riding.
I soon discovered the other benefits of my newfound sport of cycling. I lost weight, big time. And I got fit. And I had fun making lots of new friends, as cyclists tend to do.
The thing is, not only did I get fit, I kept the weight off, not by dieting, but by making cycling a part of my lifestyle.
My brother Matt Tanaka, a 56-year-old civil engineer, took up cycling just a few years ago and lost 28 extra pounds.
“It was so easy, it just happened,” Matt explains. “I didn’t expect to lose weight, I just started exercising.”
By starting with 30 minutes, then 45 minutes, and increasing to an hour, Matt worked his way to be able to bike commute to work twice per week.
“It used to take me over an hour to ride home from work. Now it takes me about a half an hour. When I started cycling, I would get out of breath easily. Now that doesn’t happen unless I’m sprinting. I’m much more efficient now. I don’t get winded and I recover fast.”
Matt now rides six hours per week by commuting to work and rides on the weekend for a total of about 10 hours per week.
“By riding my bike at low intensity for a long duration I can eat anything I want to eat, and if I start to gain weight I just ride a few more hours. For me the goal is to juststay with it and not focus on losing weight. Be consistent and have fun, because if you enjoy it enough you’ll want to stick with it.”
Matt’s enthusiasm for his new life as a cyclist is infectious. His good friend Rob Sahlman recently called him up and announced, “Hey Matt, I just lost 25 pounds!”
Sahlman, a 65-year-old retired engineer, had plenty to be concerned about besides the excess weight he was lugging around. With his cholesterol at a dangerously high level, he needed to make some drastic changes, fast.
“I told Rob about my cycling when we went fishing and he just listened,” Matt recalled. “I didn’t expect him to take it up and lose a lot of weight.”
Sahlman’s cholesterol dove from 320 to 146 in 2½ months.
“I ride at least five days per week,” Sahlman says. “I’m looking out and it’s a nice day. So I thought, this is stupid being inside, so I hopped on a bike and started riding around town. Then I thought, I’ll just go a little farther and get some exercise out of the deal. Well, okay, I just started liking it. It wasn’t a big deal, something to do to get outside and it became a lot more fun.”
In Sahlman’s case, his success is also attributed to changing his dietary habits. He adopted a plant-based diet, with lot of fruits and vegetables, no dairy and no meat.
“The tricky part,” Rob confesses, “is getting your mindset turned around. When I started, I panicked and pounded chocolate bars.”
While it remains to be seen whether he can maintain the new diet – he says not a day goes by when he doesn’t fantasize about a burger or some bacon – Rob does believe that cycling has become part of his lifestyle.
“I’m at the point where I miss it if I don’t do it. I have a 10-speed that I ride 11 miles round trip. … My goal is to lose another 15 or 20 pounds. The results are enough to keep me going. I had to buy all new pants. That’s pretty cool! My belts don’t work anymore.”
Matt agrees with the health benefits.
“My resting pulse dropped from 64 beats per minute to 56. My blood pressure was borderline hypertensive and now it’s low.”
Both friends agree that making a lifestyle shift has made the difference.
“It changes your life,” Matt says, “If people just stick with it, they wouldn’t have near as many health problems. I just don’t diet. I just ride.”