Why are people inactive, especially when they have diabetes and know how much physical activity could benefit them? If they’re older, overweight or obese, arthritic, or dealing with other physical or joint limitations, they may not feel capable of walking for exercise, and they may not have easy access to other types of activities. This may be particularly true of adults with nerve damage in their feet or arthritic knees for whom walking for exercise is just not feasible.
Enter the Corratec Life Bike (http://www.corratec.com/en/node/3365), particularly designed with adults with diabetes in mind. I recently had a chance to try out a beach cruiser version of a Corratec Life Bike, which is marketed as a health device to help people who have been mostly sedentary get back in the saddle, so to speak. The idea is that people will ride them because they are especially designed for adults with health issues. The controls, grips, seat, and ease of getting on and off are all designed to make the person riding it feel more secure riding a bike. In fact, this is the first bike made for people who are overweight, unfit, and unused to bike riding.
In addition to having comfortable seats, they’re made with an electric assist that can be used whenever the rider is pedaling. Once you charge it up and turn it on, you can control the level of assistance from none up through four different levels, each giving you increasingly more help. The whole idea is to get people who may not be able to ride because it’s too hard back on a bike by making it easier to ride.
I tried the bike out in different conditions—flat terrain, against a stiff wind, up a few hills, down some others—and it truly makes riding a lot easier than it would be otherwise. Once I got over my bias of feeling like I was cheating, I really appreciated that I had a burst of power at my fingertips to help me go up hills and zoom around obstacles in my way. Going up a power level felt like dropping down into a gear at least two lower, but I was able to maintain my speed while working less hard.
I’m not in favor of electric scooters because you don’t have to pedal at all, but these bikes are different. They only assist you when you’re exercising and then you can choose the level of assistance, as well as change the gears on the bike to make it harder or easier. I could see how these could really work well for individuals who would avoid bike riding otherwise, either because it’s too hard for them or the terrain is too challenging. With a Corratec Life Bike, you’d never meet a hill that you couldn’t get up as easily as you wanted to. In fact, using the assist mode at various levels, you can maintain the same heart rate as you would on a regular bike, but actually go faster, even going up a steep hill.
For me, a reasonably young, fairly fit person who exercises regularly, I didn’t get as much of a workout riding these bikes as I would an ordinary one, but when I was riding home on one after an hour-long swim in the pool, my legs really appreciated the extra help! I could also crank up the level of assistance when my right knee was hurting, and I found that my pain went away.
Is this a population health answer? No, for several reasons. One is that these bikes are fairly expensive, probably three times (or more) the price of a reasonably nice bike without an electric assist. Another is that even with the assist mode of the Corratec Life Bike, some individuals with poor balance, compromised vision, or other health concerns would simply not be safe out on the roads on any bike.
For the rest of you out there hesitant to return to biking for any reason, you may want to give a Life Bike a try and see if it helps you get more active. These would be great bikes for daily commuting to work, which has gotten quite a bit of press recently as a great way to get fit and healthier. Anything that can help you get more active on a regular basis is a good thing, so consider investing in one of these bikes to “assist” your return to better health through fitness.
DIC Publisher Steve Freed also tested out e-Bikes recently. Click here for his thoughts on their health benefits and how you may even be able to bike to prevent type 2 diabetes.
In addition to my educational web site, Diabetes Motion (www.diabetesmotion.com), I also recently founded an academy for fitness and other professionals seeking continuing education enabling them to effectively work with people with diabetes and exercise: Diabetes Motion Academy, accessible at www.dmacademy.com. Please visit those sites and my personal one (www.shericolberg.com) for more useful information about being active with diabetes.