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Health

Act like a kid — and lose weight

Biking has always been in Selene Yeager's life. Her earliest memories of being on a bike were in her grandfather's living room, where she and her grandfather would challenge each other riding his stationary bicycle in front of the TV.

As she was growing up in Palmerton, her biking transferred to the streets and she would "ride all over the place in flip-flops," she says. "I've always just done it."

When she moved to Emmaus in 1994, bicycling became more than a pastime.

"I was sucked into the cycling community, and it's been awesome," she says.

She's now known as "The Fit Chick" who does a column and blog for Rodale's Bicycling magazine. And she's written the new book "Ride Your Way Lean."

Yeager, whose blog includes daunting stories of her biking up Mount Washington and riding in 24-hour marathons, says you don't need to be a super athlete to get fit on a bike.

She cites a study released last month in the Archives of Internal Medicine that found that biking for as few as five minutes a day can help middle-age women minimize weight gain.

"That's huge," she says.

Yeager got her own wake-up call shortly after moving to Emmaus, when a co-worker suggested she would do better if she lost 10 pounds.

"I had just come up from Philly and I was not in the best shape," she says. "I was at the pool getting ready for a triathlon. I thought I was doing everything right. But once I started paying attention, I got back in shape."

Yeager, who also is a fitness trainer, was inspired by her clients.

One woman in her 60s had smoked two packs a day and had difficulty walking. Yeager was working with her when she asked about biking.

"She took to it, stopped smoking and lost 40 pounds," Yeager says. "She told me she had never felt so free."

Yeager explains in the book how, by varying rides and other techniques, cyclists can burn more than 600 calories per hour.

She says biking is an ideal exercise for all types of people.

"People think they have to run," Yeager says. "But running is very unforgiving. When you get on a bike, it's fun."

She finds it discouraging when contestants on TV show "The Biggest Loser" grimly exercise on a spin cycle.

"It looks so joyless," she says. "Once you get outside, it's a whole different experience."

She notes that most people have a bike in their garage or basement.

"Take it to a bike shop and get it fixed," she says. "You can do it with what you have."

Although you can exercise on any bike, getting a better bike will encourage more and longer riding.

"A lighter and better bike will give you a better riding experience," she says. "Bite the bullet and spend a little more. It's cheaper than a gym membership."

She notes that commuter bikes with flat handlebars and chain guards are popular now and great for recreational riders.

"You can wear regular pants on the bike," she says. "It's a good time to get a bike. You don't have to wear Lycra outfits and ride racing bikes to get a workout."

In the book, she offers different plans for those who want to maintain their current weight to those who want to lose more than 50 pounds.

"If you ride just 20 minutes a day, you will see a change," she says. "You will fire up a sluggish metabolism and it will lead to a cascade of positive changes."

Biking is just one part of the equation, she notes. The other is nutrition.

"You still have to watch what you're eating," she says. "We overestimate our portions a lot."

She says carbo loading, in which athletes eat a lot of carbohydrates before exercising, isn't advised unless you are doing an endurance activity.

"Eat a little before exercising so you're not ravenous when you're done and overcompensate," she says.

Instead of eating the carbohydrates in bagels and spaghetti, get your carbohydrates from fruits and vegetable such as broccoli.

"Save the starch for really long rides," she says.

Yeager rides from one to three hours daily, and often makes it a family activity with her husband Dave, also a cyclist, and 8-year-old daughter Juniper, who rides on the back of a tandem.

"To me, there's nothing like it," Yeager says. "I'd rather ride than drive. It becomes a lifestyle."

Lehigh Valley residents are fortunate to have many good places to ride, she says.

"There are so many bike paths. This area is so beautiful for road riding."

Some of her favorite rides include the Lehigh Canal towpath, which she calls "outstanding," Lehigh Parkway and Trexler Park. "There is no shortage of places to ride."

She also recommends riding out towards Kutztown on country roads that are wide, flat and don't have a lot of traffic.

Last year, Yeager joined a new professional mountain biking team known as Team CF, which was put together by cystic fibrosis researcher Dr. Jim Wilson at the University of Pennsylvania.

Yeager enjoys the demanding sport. "There are some dangerous elements," she says. "But it's so playful and fun riding through streams and getting mud all over you. There's something so satisfying about it."

Yeager has bikes all over the country. She will next head in March for her first time riding in Cape Epic, an eight-stage mountain bike team race through South Africa's Western Cape.

Although Yeager's riding is pretty extreme, she says anyone will benefit from riding.

"If you can walk down the block, you can get on a bike and pedal a mile," she says. "You need to give yourself a chance."

Biking tips from the Fit Chick

•Get a quality bike. You can lose weight on any bicycle, but you will get a better ride if you bite the bullet and spend a little more for a lighter bike.

•Pick the right bicycle. Don't get a mountain bike if you're not riding trails. Commuter bicycles with flat handlebars are comfortable and great for riding on the street.

•Get the right saddle. Many people don't realize you can change the saddle on a bike. Find one that's comfortable.

•Riding as little as 20 minutes a day will make a change in your body. Of course, more will make more of a change.

•Forget carbo-loading unless you're doing a long endurance ride. Eat a little before exercising so you're not ravenous when you're done.

•Bring one or two water bottles along for the ride. Hydration helps weight loss.

•Wear a helmet. No matter how good a rider you are, you need to protect your head.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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