Cycling can disrupt, alter, and maybe change habits that lead to poor fitness and bad health. It can also help to regain focus and cut through corporate advertising that seeks to feed us processed foods that are not good for our health and passive entertainment that leads to inactivity.
Many Americans have a love affair with overeating, bad food, and inactivity. A lot of this is driven by corporate advertising. It seems pretty clear that the goal of the food industry is to pack processed “foods” with fat, sugar, and salt in order to get people addicted to their products: potato chips, fast food and the like. The entertainment industry promotes mostly passive consumption of performances where people pay to sit and watch/listen to other people do things. Both industries are rackets aimed at generating profits with little regard for the merits of the goods and services provided. It is a system that grew organically out of industrial capitalism. It is so pervasive that it seems almost natural and beyond questioning.
But, it is not beyond question.
Just for the record: I am not super-fit. I just have an interest in fitness and have followed a plant-based (vegan) lifestyle for most of the last two decades – with some relapses (along with too much beer). And I have personally experienced the positive effects of cycling. I’d like you to think of me as a self-righteous hypocrite who makes a few good points. That’s all.
By integrating cycling into our lives, we increase our fitness, raise our awareness about our bodies, and open up a space to question the prevailing social and economic ideas regarding food and how we spend our time. To do so is a political act that challenges a social, political, and economic system that places profit over human health and well-being. It is my view that serious questioning is the first step toward some type of liberation – a certain amount of freedom to choose how much we engage with this culture of disease and accelerated physiological entropy.
It is well established that regular exercise can reduce body fat, prevent obesity, and reduce the risk of chronic diseases associated with obesity. The National Institute of Health asserts that exercise can also help manage diabetes, including helping to reduce blood sugar levels. A recent study by Stanford University researchers showed a “strong correlation” between increasing obesity in the United States and drop in the amount of exercise Americans engage in. This is not to say that overeating is not a problem. Rather, the Stanford study found that inactivity was at least a significant factor in the rise of obesity. One of the researchers specifically mentioned commuting by bike to work (when possible) as something that may reduce the incidence of obesity.
Just this week, a study was published finding that by exercising, not smoking, and “eating a diet heavy in fruits, vegetables, and grains,” people can reduce genetic risk for heart disease. The study demonstrated that an active lifestyle pared with a plant-based diet cut the genetic pre-disposition for heart disease by half, whereas an unhealthy lifestyle doubled the risk. It is not calling for athletic efforts either. As the New York Times reported, “the biggest protective effect by far came from going from a terrible lifestyle to one that was at least moderately good.” Heart disease kills about 365,000 people a year in the United States and over 17 million worldwide. Clearly some changes are in order.
In addition, researchers have found a correlation between stress and weight gain. Studies have also found a link between stress and eating foods high in fat and sugar – in other words, junk food. Exercise has been shown to reduce stress.
It is no secret that the food industry uses advertising to sell foods that are un-healthful and often toxic. Children are often the targets of this advertising, and after a lifetime of this sort of commercial propaganda, they take their food addictions with them into adulthood where they remain life-long customers. Kids spend an astounding 44.5 hours-per-week, on average, consuming passive forms of entertainment in front of computer, television, and game screens; and virtually all of that time they are inactive. Advertising works just as well on adults. A team at Yale University has been studying the effect of advertising on overeating and they have found it has a powerful influence on increased weight gain and obesity.
Just by choosing to cycle, we are taking a step away from this lifestyle – and this is a political act. The food and entertainment industry are profit driven (I will deal with the fossil fuel industry in another post). Any consideration of the negative health consequences of their products are squelched in favor of rosy promises of pleasure. Low-quality, highly-processed foods are loaded with artificial flavorings, sugar, oil, and salt to mask their lack of flavor and nutrition. Modern entertainment overwhelms the senses making us lose focus on our surroundings. Both are highly addictive. And like any addiction they can be harmful if left unchecked.
To reject mindless indulgence in the food/entertainment circus is to gain some independence of mind. Choosing to ride a bike is a way to gain independence and health of body. These choices are political acts, even if just on a personal level. My experience is that the type of physical and mental independence afforded by cycling and a more-or-less healthy lifestyle tends to multiply itself in other areas of my life: I want to ride further, make my diet healthier, limit my interaction with corporate entertainment, and focus my attention more on things closer to the heart.
This is in contrast to the alternative: mindless indulgence that leads to inactivity and disease.
Don’t kid yourself. The choices we make matter. And every choice is a political act, whether we like it or not.
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 Stacy Schmidt, “Obesity and Exercise” American College of Sports Medicine, October 7, 2016, http://www.acsm.org/public-information/articles/2012/01/19/obesity-and-exercise (accessed 11/17/16).
 National Institute of Health, “Diabetes and Physical Activity,” https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/diabetes/diabetes-physical-activity (accessed 11/17/16).
 Deborah Netburn, “Obesity: We’re Not Overeating, We’re Under-exercising, Study Suggests,” Los Angeles Times, July 8, 2014, http://www.latimes.com/science/sciencenow/la-sci-sn-lack-of-exercise-linked-to-rise-in-obesity-20140707-story.html (accessed 11/14/16).
 Id.  Gina Kolata, “Genetic Heart Disease Risk Eased by Healthy Habits Study Finds,” New York Times, November 13, 2016, http://www.nytimes.com/2016/11/14/health/genetic-heart-disease-risk-eased-by-healthy-habits-study-finds.html?rref=collection%2Fsectioncollection%2Fhealth&action=click&contentCollection=health®ion=rank&module=package&version=highlights&contentPlacement=2&pgtype=sectionfront (accessed 11/17/16).
 Harvard Medical School, “Why Stress Cause People to Overeat,” Harvard Mental Health Letter, http://www.health.harvard.edu/newsletter_article/why-stress-causes-people-to-overeat (accessed 11/14/16).
 Eliza Barclay, “Scientists are Building a Case for How Food Ads Make Us Overeat,” National Public Radio, January 29, 2016, http://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2016/01/29/462838153/food-ads-make-us-eat-more-and-should-be-regulated (accessed 11/15/2016); Union of Concerned Scientists, “Sugar-Coating Science: How the Food Industry Misleads Consumers on Sugar,” June 2014, http://www.ucsusa.org/center-for-science-and-democracy/sugar-coating-science.html#.WCuA4NIrJph (accessed 11/15/16).