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Do you have to be super fit to get the benefits of cycling?

Spring is almost here and it is time to get the old bicycle out!

Over 13.5 million Canadians commuted to work in 2011*. Many of them drove cars to work.

* Statistics marked with an Asterisk are from Statistics Canada.

According to Statistics Canada, they took various forms of transportation including cars, public transit, ferries and bicycles. Public transit users are made up of about 12% of the population which jumped up 1% from the 2006 census when it was 11% of the Canadian population.

Cycling accounts for just over 200,000 commuters in Canada. Victoria, B.C. has the most cyclists of all the major cities in Canada. Clearly Canadians are increasingly warming up to the idea of cycling as an alternative to driving to work. And why shouldn't they, there is documented evidence that cycling can improve your physical health, your mental health as well as helping the environment and providing a relatively cheap and easy way to get to work.

Given all the benefits it makes you wonder if out-of-shape people would be more likely to cycle to work if they were physically fit?

After all, it stands to reason people who are out-of-shape and not proud of their bodies might be loathe to bicycle to work if they feel they are not physically up to the challenge. It thus becomes a bit of a Catch-22 that if a person is overweight, how can they lose weight via bicycling if they feel defeated before they have even started.

First, let's see what cycling in Toronto looks like on a statistical level. There has been a small increase in cycling in Toronto over a 10 year period (1999 to 2009) of about 6% of Torontonians who commute to work via bicycle. Particularly from 2001 to 2006, the number of Torontonians cycling to work increased by 30%. The biggest increase was in female riders and the demographic that increased the most was female riders aged 45 - 54 and male riders aged 55 - 64. This demographic might be due to a higher number of middle-aged / older Torontonians getting into cycling for its health benefits - possibly with other unknown factors contributing to the rise.

Though cycling is on the rise in Toronto, the city still lags behind all major cities in Canada. 1.2% of commuters in Toronto cycled to work in 2011*. When compared to Victoria's 5.6% of commuters who bicycle to work, Toronto's 1.2% seems tiny in comparison. Clearly Toronto has lots of work to do if Toronto is to become a more bicycle friendly city.

Granted Victoria only has a population of 78,000 people (2006 census) while Toronto has 2.5 million. So Toronto has 30,000 cyclists who commute to work to Victoria's approx. 4,368 cyclists who commute to work.

Next, let's find out what kinds of health benefits we can experience with cycling.

Cycling can improve your general health and fitness, everyone know that, but lets take a moment to bust a myth about pollution inhalation. Cycling to work reduces the amount of pollution you intake on your commute. Contrary to popular belief, cyclists inhale less pollution than motorists do. You would think it would be the opposite, but according to 'An Overview of Cycling Research', a document compiled by Dr. Chris Cavacuiti which examines a plethora of studies on the topic, cyclists inhale less pollution than motorists do. So even though motorists are in the "safety" of the cars, they still inhale more fine and ultrafine particulate matter than cyclists do - possible because motorists are often stuck in traffic for longer periods of time, and they may also be inhaling fumes from their own vehicle. The exact cause of why motorists inhale more pollution has not been determined as of yet, but what is known is that they are definitely inhaling more of it.

On the exercise level studies have shown that active transportation - exercise that is part of the daily routine of getting to work as opposed to exercise that is structured activity (i.e. going to the gym) is more sustainable over time. This means people get into the routine of bicycling to work and this routine becomes customary, whereas people who visit the gym sometimes lose focus and stop going to the gym.

Many gym-goers also use stationary bicycles while at the gym, but the health benefits of cycling inside an air conditioned gym vs cycling in the great outdoors isn't so much a matter of which is better from a health perspective, but which is better for people to stay motivated to keep doing it. Cyclists who cycle outdoors report that they love cycling and would never willingly give it up. Gym goers on stationary bicycles are more ambivalent on the topic and report becoming "bored easily".

Mental health can be improved by cycling as well. A meta-analysis discovered that exercise can be used as a treatment for depression. Exercise can also contribute to reducing the risk of sleep disorders and eating disorders. There are other benefits to cycling including increased sense of community, decreased congestion, and reducing the effects of Alzheimer's and dementia.

Cycling is also a great way to build endurance - which has a variety of side benefits for many other activities (including activities in bed).

There are many benefits to cycling but unfortunately there are also risks. The risks include death and injuries and such incidents are reported in the news media. However fatality rates for cyclists are much lower in Canada than pedestrians and drivers/passengers. So you are more likely to get hit by a car and killed while walking across the street than you are to be killed while cycling.

Over a 20 year period between 1988 and 2008 fatality rates have decreased in general for cyclists. Overall, when taking a risk benefit analysis on cycling, most people find that the benefits greatly outweigh the risks by 20 to 1.

So do you need to have a body like Arnold Schwarzenegger circa 1985 to start cycling or bicycle to work? Obviously not. You certainly do not need to be Arnold to start to get the benefits of cycling. The best thing to do is to just start - and if it is possible to bicycle to work where you live, why not do so? Of course it may be hard at first, your lungs will burn and so will your thighs, but keep at it and it will get easier over time.

Before long you will be reaping the health benefits of cycling and you will be wishing you had started cycling to work sooner.

Archery Question - Stacking, Wall and Let Off



I see you teach archery and even though I don't live in Toronto I was hoping you might be able to answer a terminology question for me. Thanks in advance for helping me with this!

Anyway, my question relates to stack. Back in the Autumn I was in the backyard with a friend who has been doing archery a lot longer than me and he told me that my compound bow stacks a lot. I didn't want to look stupid at the time so I just sorta nodded and said "Yeah, it does." because stacking a lot sounded like a compliment to me.

However when I tried researching what stack means I came across a lot of references to longbows and shortbows, and nothing about compound bows. So my questions for you are: What is stack? What does it mean when he says my compound bow stacks a lot?

Thanks again for your help!
Michael A."


Hey Michael!

Your confusion regarding stack is very understandable, especially since your friend was using the wrong term.

The correct term for them to be using is Wall, sometimes referred to as a High Wall if it is particularly difficult to pull as it gets closed to the Wall. Compounds bows sometimes have a "Forgiving Wall" or a "smooth draw", which means it isn't as difficult to pull as you get closed to the Wall, but often means the bow in question loses a few fps in arrow speed on release. Your compound bow is apparently one of the High Wall / merciless designs, which are made for speed and not draw comfort.

Because compound bows have pulleys they cannot get stack.* (I will explain what stack is in a moment). Instead compound bows get harder and harder to pull back on until they reach what is known as the Wall, and once "over the Wall" you experience the Let Off when the compound bow suddenly becomes a lot easier to pull.

So for example if you have a 50 lb bow with 80% Let Off, the Wall will feel like you are pulling 50 lbs, but once you get past the Wall the left off kicks in and the bow feels like it is only 10 lbs pull.

I also applaud you for trying to research what Stack really means. You are correct, stack relates to longbows and shortbows.

Stack is the angle of the bowstring to the limb tip, which due to physics makes the bow's pull weight feel heavier than it really is. When the bow is relaxed, the string angle on a longbow is very narrow, but as you pull back the string angle widens dramatically. The wider it becomes the more a longbow will stack, making it feel harder than it really is.

Thus Stack and Wall does feel similar when you are pulling back on a bow, hence your friend's confusion of the two terms. I am guessing your friend is into longbows or shortbows, and thus learned of the term but didn't know what Stack actually means.

Shortbows stack more than longbows, due to sharper angle of the tips.

In the case of recurve bows or bows with reflexed or recurved tips, they still stack, but thanks to the recurved shape of the tip the angle of the string to the tip is reduced. Thus recurved bows still stack, but the amount of stack is reduced significantly depending on the bow.

This is why you will often see recurved bows with very dramatically curved limb tips that have been designed in order to maximize the amount of reduction in stack. (See the image further below.)

If you want to learn more about Stack and how it works (on a physics level) I recommend reading The Traditional Bowyer's Bible (Volume One) and read Chapter 3 on "Bow Design and Performance" by Tim Baker.

A Highly Recurved Limb Tip

Sprains, Strains and how to Prevent Them in the First Place

We all want to stay active and a regular exercise routine is an essential way to ensure that you maintain a healthy lifestyle. The one drawback to regular exercise is the possibility of injury. This is something that we cannot always avoid and when it happens it can really affect our exercise routine and our everyday lives. We have all heard the horror stories of people doing some exercise and ending up with broken limbs, sprained ankles, pulled muscles and ligament injuries. This can put you out of commission for several days to several months. So what injuries are possible and what can we do to avoid them? Below we will see what can happen and how we can prevent them from happening.

While listening to the radio I heard the story of a young woman who decided to participate in crossfit training. This is a high impact type of exercise that includes exercises such as high-intensity interval training, Olympic weightlifting, plyometrics, powerlifting, gymnastics, girevoy sport,calisthenics, strongman and other exercises. These types of exercises requires a high level of athleticism and great strength. The young lady loved doing crossfit as she had a been involved in sports her whole life including competing in the Olympics for martial arts. Crossfit provided her with an opportunity to compete with others and remain athletic at the same time even if she was not able to it at an Olympic level. One day she was doing box jumps (literally jumping up on boxes from a standing position) and she felt her leg crumble underneath her weight. It turned out she had shattered her lower leg from ankle to knee breaking it in multiple places. It took several surgeries, a lot of physiotherapy and many months of recuperation to get her walking again much less working out.

Traumatic injuries such as the one described above are the worst types of injuries we can suffer while working out. Common injuries like sprains and pulled muscles are a bigger concern for everyday people. But it is important to remember that exercise is not inert. They can provide you with great benefits but can also cause great injuries. It is best to do any exercise with great care and preparation. Also, consult your doctor before you do anything strenuous or if you feel that you are experiencing pain or discomfort while doing the exercise.

How do you get a sprain?

Sprains can happen all over your body. When do exercise you may encounter a sprained ankle or wrist. Sprains are injuries to ligaments when they are suddenly pushed past their limits. They can tear or become deformed as a result. Usually, you just need to give your sprain some time to heal and some cold compress. If they are particularly bad, you may need to seek some medical attention as soon as possible.

How to prevent sprains?

Some ways to prevent the injury are to not over do it if you have not done an activity for a while. Say you had to take an extended break from playing basketball and finally got the opportunity to start playing again. Do not over do it by playing exhaustively for an hour. Your ligaments and muscles just cannot take it. You need to give them some time to stretch and get used to being used in that way. Stretch first, take it easy for the first few times on the court (do not exert yourself too much), play for a short period of time, and stop if you feel any discomfort.

Another type of muscle sprain is a groin pull. It can occur when you push off your feet in a side to side motion, like when you run. You see this injury in athletes all the time especially in sports such as hockey, soccer or football. In these sports, people are required to run or skate at the drop of a hat and it is this kind of situation can cause a groin pull.

You can prevent a groin pull by stretching and warming up beforehand. Make sure that you do so in a through manner to ensure the best results. Also, just like the basketball player above, make sure that you have conditioned your muscles for the task at hand. Build up conditioning through repeated exercise over time can prepare your muscles for any activity you might do.

5 Exercises to do in March

So March is here and warmer weather is just around the corner. Here are 5 exercise ideas for people to do during March while the snow is melting and it isn't quite warm enough to do other more summer-oriented activities.

#1. Shovel Snow out of the driveway. Chances are likely you will need to do this anyway, but if that is already done you can also:

Make one last snowman before it melts.
Have a snowball fight with friends / family before it all melts.
Move all of the snow on your property into one corner and let it melt there, so that the grass can start growing sooner.

#2. Go Snowshoeing, Skiing, Snowboarding or Ice Skating one last time.

Or if there isn't enough snow left to do those activities, go for a hike instead. Take the dog with you!

#3. Stay inside and exercise like you did in January and February. Maybe you dislike cold weather entirely and have no interest in going outside when there is still a wisp of snow on the ground, in which case staying inside might be more your thing... But that sounds awfully boring so why not change it up a bit? You could:

Get a gym membership for 1 month only.
Get a membership at a yoga studio for 1 month.
Get a membership at a rock climbing studio for 1 month.
Get a membership at a boxing gym for 1 month.
Sign up for 1 month worth of martial arts lessons.

#4. Try an Extreme Sport that is either outdoors or indoors. Examples:

Sign up for archery lessons in Toronto.
Join a paintball organization so you can run around and shoot friends with paint.
Try "Archery Tag" at one of the various locations in Toronto that offer it.
Join a club that does Parkour or Freerunning (hopefully you are under 30 and already reasonably fit).

#5. Spring Clean your Home. Cleaning things is actually very good exercise and your home probably needs a good cleaning anyway. Listen to music while you clean, take your time doing it, work up a sweat, and remember to take a break every so often. Have fun!

Can Feng Shui improve my workout?

Feng Shui is the Chinese philosophy system of harmonizing oneself with their environment.  In it, one seeks to arrange their space to ensure that energy is able to flow uninterrupted throughout.  Remember Yin and Yang, well they also play a part in feng shui in that they help to describe the flow of energy within a space.

How does this help you with your exercise routine? It just so happens that creating a feng shui space can allow you to energize your workout, improve your desire to work out and make you feel better in the long run.

What exactly are we feng shui'ing? We want to focus on the space so we want to select, arrange and prepare a space that is conducive to the flow of energy.  We can accomplish this by doing some very specific things to our personal gym rooms at home.
What colour should I use?
We should start with colours that you should not choose.  Dark colours such as brown and black are not the colours you should be painting the wall of you personal gym.  They tend to bring down the mood of a room and can cause people to feel tired and ready to got to sleep (definitely not traits of a room we want to do energizing exercise in).  
You should pick a colour that will make you want to move and shed those pesky pounds.  Colours you may want to pick are ones that reflect nature and the outdoors such as shades of green or sky blue.  These colours will put you in a peaceful mood that will allow you to focus on your exercise.  Or you may want to pick a pale yellow that will reflect the natural light coming from your windows.  And lastly, you can pick a hot colour like red that will increase you energy and make you feel like working extra hard to burn your calories.
Selection of a room
If you are so lucky as to be able to pick the room you will be exercising in you should pick a room that gets lots of natural light and maybe a bit a breeze.  This will provide you with a space that has the proper flow to it.  Also, try to find a space that is away from too much noise, but be sure to balance it out with some sort of energizing element (perhaps some red paint) as too much tranquility will not give you a well balanced space.

Arranging your gym equipment
To make sure that you place your gym equipment in a manner conducive to feng shui the first step is to make sure that your space is kept clean and tidy.  The best way to ensure that the space is able to encourage the flow of energy is to keep it clean.  
Next, if you can put some of it away in a closet you can ensure the space is kept as open as possible and that it will not disrupt the energy flow.  Place the equipment in the eastern section of your house.  This is the area most associated with new beginnings, family, friends and health.

Feng shui is a great tool in ensuring that your exercise is done in a positive and productive space.  Using the ancient Chinese philosophy will help you to lose those pounds you want in no time.
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