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Staging Your Personal Tour de France

You may feel like the most inactive person in the world, but it is possible to achieve your own Tour de France victory.

Be Like Lance

You may feel like the most inactive person in the world, but it is possible to achieve your own Tour de France victory.

"Cycling is a great activity that can be performed by a wide variety of fitness levels, body types, and body sizes," says Cedric Bryant, PhD, chief exercise physiologist for the American Council on Exercise.

The benefits are just as generous. According to Bryant, biking can help burn calories, control body weight, and reduce stress, blood pressure, and risk of type 2 diabetes. It can also improve overall cardiovascular fitness, cholesterol levels, and immune function.

Not only that, there's the advantage of being outdoors in the sunlight and fresh air, having adequate cooling, and seeing different terrains and scenery.

And if you enjoy the sport, the pros multiply. "The best exercise that you can select is the one that you enjoy, because you're most likely to do that on a consistent basis," says Bryant. "Don't get caught up in 'Well, this one doesn't burn as many calories as the next one.' The most important thing to consider is, what type of activities do you really enjoy?"

Incidentally, a 150-pound cyclist pedaling a gentle pace of 12 miles per hour can work off 410 calories in an hour (about the same amount as a Quarter Pounder hamburger), says Patrick McCormick, a spokesman for the League of American Bicyclists.

Your own biking regimen, though, may pale compared to the 5,900 average calories burned per day in the Tour and may not work off as much as running. (An hour on the bike may burn about 400, while the same time on the treadmill may burn 700 calories.)

Nonetheless, cycling is a still a great exercise and has its merits. It doesn't strain the knees, joints, and back to the extent that running does. In fact, as many runners age, they become cyclists because the pedaling motion reduces pressure on their knees, says McCormick.

People who bike to work report less stress from having to deal with traffic and say they generally feel good about themselves. Plus, some cyclists have the added satisfaction of being friendly to the environment.

If you're still not convinced, consider this: At age 50, Mary Madison was in the worst shape ever. She suffered from arthritis, complications from childhood polio, and had the beginning symptoms of emphysema after smoking for three decades. She did not think she could ride even one mile on the bike.

Fast forward 18 years, and Madison cycles some 2,000 miles from East Montana to Sacramento, Calif., to her 50th high school reunion. The retired nurse also made the trip back home. She says doctors now can't find signs of her emphysema, and her arthritis and complications from polio don't bother her as much.

What happened? Madison says she just started biking. First, she did one mile, then two, and then five. Gradually, she worked her way up to cycling multiday long-distance rides around her home state of Montana.

"When I biked, it was the one thing that gave me relaxation and help me feel good," says Madison.

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