We collected the heartrate data to create Paul Hartnoll’s (Orbital) Heartwork track from cyclists up and down the country, but we wanted to visit the North West, to understand more about the area of the UK worst affected by heart disease. It was here, we met a whole host of commuters, that through their bikes, are leading a much healthier life thanks to the power of cycling.
First up, we meet Graham Robinson, a Police Officer based in Warrington that attributes the huge change in not only his life, but his entire family’s life, to cycling.
A change for the whole family: Graham Robinson
How do you feel since starting to cycle to work?
“Brilliant. I only have to get out of bed fifteen minutes earlier which is nothing, especially when I look at what I’ve got out of cycling to work.
I will be honest though, when I first started out riding to work, and there would be days when it was cold and raining, I would think to myself ‘why am I doing this?’ But then as soon as I get on the bike and that first mile is out of the way, I’ve got a completely clear head to think about what I’m going to do that day and what I’ve already achieved that week. It’s great, you truly get that headspace to think. My commute is 50 minutes long, so I can tick things over in my head properly – about my life, my work, about the family – it’s just great to have that time.
In the mornings it also wakes me right up and I feel alert when I wouldn’t have before. So, I arrive at work fully prepared, switched on and ready to get moving with the day. As a result, I’m much better both at work and when I return home”.
How has riding to work benefitted your health in particular?
“There’s been a truly dramatic change in my health since I started cycling to work. I used to be a 6 foot 4, 23 stone Rugby player, and didn’t ever feel I was unfit, but looking back I was. My food and drink intake wasn’t the best, and following a knee injury that stopped me from playing Rugby, my physical health hit a low point.
I can attribute my change in health to cycling to work. I’ve dropped down at my lowest to 15.5 stone, and now maintain a weight of around 16 or 17 stone that is much healthier for my height.”
How has this change in health impacted your life?
“As a result of being in better shape, I feel a whole lot fitter and can play a lot more with my children. Family is something that means a whole lot to me, and ever since my mother passed away from deep vein thrombosis, being in good health has always been at the front of my mind, and I knew that the heavier I was, the more susceptible I was to health issues.
Now, I don’t have any worries about health problems and can simply focus on my family. My change even inspired my wife, and now we all go on bike rides. I love that I can share the cycling with my children, and look forward to seeing my grandchildren out riding one day too!”
What would you say to someone who was debating whether to start cycling to work?
“I would tell them that it is the best thing that they will honestly ever do. It’s not only improved things socially for me by finding friends that are into cycling, but economically I’m saving money left and right by not needing to drive my car to work. The physical benefits have been huge, and above all else, it’s changed the lives of my entire family!”
A better commute for better health: Yasmin Green
Next, we meet Yasmin Green, a social worker based in Greater Manchester. Here, we find out how she began riding her way to a healthier heart.
What were the main reasons that made you think about starting to cycle to work?
“The first thing that made me think about starting to cycle to work, was noticing just how fast and fluidly cyclists would be passing me as I was just sat still in traffic. They would be effortlessly passing through the traffic, and I imagine would be arriving well before I was in my car. I would look at them and say to myself ‘I should be out there with them’. The way I used to start my day was very demotivating to say the least”.
Was there a particular moment where you realised that you needed to be more active and start cycling?
“I had visited my physio about an ongoing back pain I was having trouble with, and they quite brutally told me that I was overweight and that the pain wouldn’t be relieved unless I lost weight.
It was harsh and really took me back, but at the same time, it was a real awakening and certainly worked on getting me active. That was definitely the catalyst behind me getting cycling”.
How long have you been cycling to work now?
“It’s been ten years since I started cycling to work, and I’m doing things now that I never dreamed that I would be capable of. I’m now enjoying a much healthier life and am fitter and faster than I previously was – by a long way”.
How has it benefitted your health in particular?
“Since starting to cycle to work, I’ve lost three stone in total, and with that in mind, I am in a much healthier state than I previously was.
It hasn’t only been a physical thing though, as the cycling has helped me to explore new places that I’ve never seen before, meet a whole new set of friends and overall, become a much healthier, and more energised person”.
What would you say to someone that was debating whether to start cycling to work?
“I would tell them to stop debating it and get started. It’s been one of the best decisions I’ve ever made, as it hasn’t only turned my health around, but it’s something I truly enjoy outside of just my ride to work. It’s great fun and even though at first it can be hard if you’re not regularly active before starting, your fitness levels will soon build up and it’ll be a breeze in no time”.
Biking with a business: Andrew Thornley
Andrew Thornley is the owner of a design agency in the North West. He’s now an avid cyclist, however, this wasn’t always the case…
How did your previous commute make you feel?
“Driving before or after a busy day would really stress me out. As everyone is in the same boat at those times of day of being stressed and in a rush, no one has any time for one another, there’s beeping horns, shouting, swearing. In short, it’s not a pleasant experience, so didn’t make me feel good at all”.
Was there a particular moment where you realised you needed to be more active and start cycling?
“Before I started cycling to work I was really, really unhealthy. Due to my job I was driving all the time, eating food at service stations and in general, leading a life that wasn’t doing me any good.
The moment I realised that I needed to make a change, was when I arrived at the office and was out of breath from simply walking up a single flight of stairs. That was definitely a moment of realisation and worry for me”.
How do you feel now you have started cycling to work?
“Since cycling to work, I think my life has changed massively. Because when I think back to where I started from: not being able to walk up a flight of stairs particularly quickly without getting out of breath to where I am now, it couldn’t be much more different.
I’ve really worked hard on cycling as many days as I can, to a point where I’m now actually taking part in competitive races, I’ve done triathlons and I’ve run marathons. As a result, my weight has dropped significantly, meaning I’m a much happier and healthier person all-round. Both mentally and physically. Even my employees comment on how much of a difference it has made to my attitude at work – which is great”.
As an owner of a fast-moving business, how do you make sure you do still cycle regularly, and not revert to the car?
“Having a busy lifestyle really doesn’t mean the cycling has to fall by the wayside. Personally, I try to accommodate my work around my cycling now. For example, I don’t plan any meetings early in the morning to make sure I can get my ride in. I have even cycled to Liverpool for meetings which has meant a good long ride. There are many ways to make sure you keep cycling, even if you are busy.
I understand that some may not be able to reschedule meetings and will have other restraints, but I think that if you’re committed enough and really want to do it then you can definitely fit it into your lifestyle. Being busy isn’t an excuse not to do it”.
Have you ever used the Ride-to-Work scheme? What are your thoughts on it?
“I’ve used the Ride-to-Work scheme twice now and am just about to use it for the third time. I think it’s a brilliant idea, as it enables anyone to get a great bike at a discounted rate and pay it off in a way that suits them. It’s something I would recommend to anyone that’s thinking about getting into cycling, or simply looking to get a better bike, but maybe can’t afford a large, one-off outlay”.
What would you say to someone who was debating whether to start cycling to work?
“If anybody is thinking of commuting to work by bike, I really would have no hesitation but to recommend they do it. Whether it’s just for one day a week, or for five days a week, getting started will change your life for the better”.
To get started on your own ride towards a healthier heart, click here.