Pedal your way to health

Time for India Inc. to have its own ‘Bike to Work’ Day.

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‘A desk connected to a digital exercise bike can help burn calories’, said the headline. Before long, another headline caught my eye, ‘Get work done and workout at the same time with this $400 stationary bike’. A third one said, ‘This bicycle desk is healthier than a sitting desk and less of a drag than a standing one’. Yet another one screamed, ‘Cycling can help India save Rs 1.8 trillion: TERI’. That is an alarmingly huge figure, I thought to myself. Before I could recover from the shock, there it was once again, ‘Trivandrum gets its own Bicycle Mayor.’

“What is with all the cycling and bicycles,” I wondered. “Why this sudden fetish for pedalling to work and at work?”

For one, people have suddenly realised that they are spending too much time sitting. India Inc. too has finally woken up to the fact that employees need to move and exercise to stay fit. This explains the five-minute dancing in the middle of a work day, yoga sessions, as well as tennis, badminton and cricket matches. Many offices have bicycle clubs, wherein the members meet every weekend and go cycling in the outskirts of the city early in the morning.

Indiana University Bloomington actually celebrates 17 May as ‘Bike to Work Day’. In a campus, where six per cent of the faculty cycle to the grounds, the Day is used to promote biking to work. It is a chance for those who have never tried pedalling to work, to give it a try (and chances are that they will make it a habit). On 9 May, Bike to Work Day was celebrated in the Bay Area too. In fact, this was the 25th year of celebration and participants were being offered mileage plan miles by Alaska Airlines, along with other gifts and rewards from the innumerable sponsors.

The next time a manager wants to discuss an important matter with a junior, a ride along the bicycle track will be the best way to do it. It is fun, helps the mind to focus, is a super way to work out, and saves a lot in fuel costs.

And taking cycling to the next level, is the city of Montreal, where bicycle desks are being introduced in libraries, so that people can pedal while they read! These bicycle desks are basically just silent stationary bikes with an attached desk. While it is a great way to exercise both the body and the mind simultaneously, is it really feasible in a country like India?

India’s take

It is true that cycling clubs are very common in our country, but will the ‘bicycle desks’ catch on in India Inc.? Are they really practical? And what are we encouraging here? Spending more time indoors?

Imagine trying to work on your laptop, creating a presentation or tallying sales figures, while your legs are busy pedalling. It may feel awkward unless everyone else around you is doing the same thing. And what kind of attire will be ideal for such a workstation? Obviously something you can sweat in. That would mean the entire staff turning up for work in workout clothes — tracks and tees!

Why not encourage your staff to just go for a brisk walk once or twice a day? The whole team can do it together. Some time away from the workstation, amidst greenery can be very soothing.

Also, these bicycle desks do not come cheap. If there are a 100 employees in an office, there will have to be at least 50 of these bicycle desks so that at least half the workforce can be exercising their bodies and minds together, while the other half sits at their desks. Creators of the Deskcise Pro, which is connected to an app, claim that this form of exercising and this model of bicycle desk helps correct people’s postures. It keeps them from slouching and dozing off after lunch. The app allows users to keep track of the calories they burn as well as their heart rate.

While it is doable, a complete makeover of the office space will be required. To have normal workstations, that is, desks with drawers and pinboards in front of them as well as bicycle desks for each employee will require double the usual space. If the conventional desks are completely done away with, employees will have to be given lockers to keep their belongings and store their documents and files.

A middle path will be to have such bicycle desks in meeting rooms so that employees can pedal while participating in an active meeting. Again, employees, especially women, will have to remember to dress appropriately on the meeting day so that they can mount a bicycle!

Did you know that India has almost a dozen bicycle mayors? These are cycling catalysts who try to promote cycling amongst the population.

But then, why go in for all this in the first place? Introduction of bicycle desks will mean that employees will still drive to work. Even though they will be working out for a little while inside the office, they will still burn fuel and add to environment/air and noise pollution in trying to get to work.

Going the conventional way

Why not encourage your staff to just go for a brisk walk once or twice a day? The whole team can do it together. Some time away from the workstation, amidst greenery can be very soothing.

And if you have to join the cycling bandwagon, do it the conventional way. Provide bicycles for your employees to ride in their free time. Encourage them to cycle to work. Those whose offices are too far from their homes, can be encouraged to take the metro to the station nearest the office and then switch to the bicycle. A wonderful idea, actually. For a person who will be spending hours at a desk, this bit of imposed exercise daily, in the morning and in the evening will work wonders for the body.

It does not cause pollution, nor does it leave any carbon footprint. It is the most economical way to ensure health and fitness. What’s more, it does not add to the traffic either.

India’s bicycle mayors

Did you know that India has almost a dozen bicycle mayors? These are cycling catalysts who try to promote cycling amongst the population. These mayors are appointed by the Bicycle Mayor and Leaders Program initiated by BYCS, an Amsterdam-based social enterprise whose main objective is to promote cycling in each city through bicycle mayors. They intend to ensure that 50 per cent of all the city trips are made by bicycles within the next decade. Prakash P Gopinath, Nikita Lalwani, Bhairavi Joshi, Arshel Akhter and Sathya Sankaran are the bicycle mayors who are doing their bit to promote cycling in Tiruvananthapuram, Vadodara, Valsad, Guwahati and Bengaluru respectively.

They help set up cycling clubs in schools and colleges and also approach the civic bodies to lay out cycling tracks on the city roads for the safety of cyclists.

Isn’t it time for India Inc. to do their bit too? A study by the Energy & Resource Institute (TERI), backed by the All India Cycle Manufacturers’ Association reveals that if half of the trips undertaken on two-wheelers and four-wheelers are substituted with bicycle trips, for even a distance of less than eight kilometres, it will result in fuel savings worth Rs 27 billion. That is not all, substituting two- and four-wheelers with bicycles for short distances can help reduce air pollution and so save Rs 241 billion, and also provide health benefits worth Rs 1,435 billion. Not to mention the obnoxious amounts of money spent by corporates on renting parking spaces that will be saved.

Even a small city like Jamshedpur has taken a step in the right direction by introducing bicycles for visitors at Jubilee Park.

Indian organisations are already going out of the way to ensure the health and well-being of their employees and keep them engaged. Why not go a step further to ensure that the roads and parks around the office area have the right infrastructure and are made bicycle friendly?

The next time a manager wants to discuss an important matter with a junior, a ride along the bicycle track will be the best way to do it. It is fun, helps the mind to focus, is a super way to work out, and saves a lot in fuel costs.

So start working on it right away. Identify the open space nearest the office that can be turned into a cycling zone. Adopt the area and turn it into a workout-cum-meeting-cum-fun zone. Cycling can well become the best form of health insurance and employee engagement.

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