Biking with a healthy boost



When Jim Turner founded Optibike, a local electric bike manufacturer, he initially geared marketing toward the environmental benefits of swapping a car for a bike — even one powered with electricity. Turner looked to his own experiences and his own life, and decided people often balk at biking to work because it’s too far, the terrain is too steep, or arriving at work sweat-soaked is too unappealing. The Optibike was sold as an eco-friendly choice for distance commuters.

It runs 50 miles before needing a recharge and provides motorized assistance at the flick of a wrist to cut down on time and sweat.

Then he started getting phone calls from customers. Yes, they loved their bike and, hey, they happened to have dropped 20 or 30 pounds.

They’d made a lifestyle change and lost weight in the way a study released June 23 in The New England Journal of Medicine showed is often the most effective method.

The published results combine a series of three studies beginning as early as 1976 and checking in with a total of 289,916 participants, mostly female, and all health professionals. The study showed that weight loss can be a tricky matrix, but that lifestyle choices may provide a better method for keeping the pounds off than dietary choices.

Banning carbs and/or sugars, leaping over to low-calorie options and avoiding potato chips and sugary beverages all have an impact, but that take-it-off-and-keep-it-off often so elusive for dieters is connected to a change in day-to-day living.

That means watching less television, and generally sitting around less. Like, by getting out of the car and onto a bike.

“We think of it as kind of integral fitness, where it can fit into your life with what you already do,” Turner says. “We’re all struggling with time.”

Electric bikes are designed to make a ride more accessible or more aerobic by providing a little assistance to the pedal-power. Twist the knob, and the engine picks up the speed, letting commuters move more quickly and ease through that last hill home.

“It’s constantly there, helping you along,” Turner says.

Because the engine keeps the resistance down, it’s possible to pedal at faster repetitions, creating an aerobic workout that bumps up the heart rate. The top participant in Optibike’s annual weight loss challenge has lost 25 pounds since January.

“I think it makes exercise fun for everybody so they want to do it, and the weight just drops off,” says Craig Taber, sales and marketing manager for Optibike.

Optibikes are a locally made version of electric bikes, and retailers like Pete’s Electric Bikes and Small Planet E Vehicles in Longmont also sell electric bikes.

“We originally thought of the energy savings as the big thing,” Turner says. “But what’s personal for people is their health.”

Pounds on the scale, it seems, are a lot easier to picture than pounds of carbon.

The other secret for more ecofriendly living that’s going to keep the weight down? Avoid pre-packaged foods.

The studies described in The New England Journal of Medicine linked diets that include potato chips, potatoes particularly in the form of french fries, sugar-sweetened beverages, unprocessed red meats and processed meats to weight increases. All those products are likely to come wrapped and shipped in something. While manufacturers have been working on alternatives (remember the Sun Chips bag that rattled at higher decibels than a chain saw?), a lot of them don’t have it down yet.

Producing plastic and cardboard packaging consumes energy and resources, including oil. Disposing of or recycling them can produce greenhouse gases and consume energy.

The items the study associated with weight loss or maintenance were vegetables, whole grains, fruits, nuts and yogurt — items which can often be purchased in bulk, and brought home in reusable containers and bags, or, at least, recyclable plastics.

Health, environment and energy use are all intertwined, Turner says.

“The solutions of the future, they’re not singular.”