16 February 2010

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As we approach the end of February the lack of spring-like weather has not distracted the competitive riders at North Down Cycling Club from the looming challenge of the first race of the season, now just over a week away. The last weekend of the month offers the possibility of doing two races, the annual season opener at Annaclone on Saturday 26th and the Phoenix GP the following day. The recent spell of cold but mainly dry weather has given riders the chance to get in some long runs, with a few men clocking up 150 miles each weekend, thanks largely to the regular reliability trials, the last of which will take place this coming Sunday, leaving the House of Sport on the Upper Malone Road at 9.30am. As usual there will be two groups, both covering the same 60 mile route.


A more leisurely alternative to the hard grind of racing is available at the end of this month. North Down’s secretary Julie Stevenson has organised a cycling weekend break at the Bushmills youth hostel, beginning the evening of Friday 25th through to Sunday 27th. This follows the highly successful hostelling weekend last autumn in the Sperrins. There are some places left for this trip and anyone interested should contact Julie as soon as possible.


As anticipated in this column back in January, North Down Cycling Club’s membership has already exceeded one hundred for the 2010 season and this impressive total is expected to increase with several members still to renew last year’s membership. Riders still in this position are urged to sign up as soon as possible, especially if they intend to ride competitively. There has been a delay in processing memberships at Cycling Ireland headquarters and with the racing season less than two weeks away, late applications may result in licences not arriving in time.


Swelling numbers of riders and dry weather have produced large turnouts for the Saturday club runs. While it is great to see so many riders on the roads cyclists need to be aware of the needs of other road users. This has implications for the size of groups on the road and the riding formation of individual groups. North Down Cycling Club has a policy on safe riding and the details can be read on the club website at www.northdowncc.com. The club recommends groups of no more than 20 riders. Large groups make overtaking by motorists a difficult and risky operation. Many motorists underestimate the speed of a group of riders and, therefore, the time and space required to complete an overtaking manoeuvre. Cyclists have the right to ride on the roads but, like all road users, there is an obligation to consider the rights of others. The roads are getting more and more congested and some drivers become impatient and impatience can lead to risk taking. Recent collisions between local cyclists and motor vehicles illustrate the vulnerability of riders. When a vehicle hits a cyclist there is going to be only one loser.


The normal end of year seasonal indulgence predictably creates an upsurge in gym membership and the sale of exercise equipment and it’s usually about now that discipline starts to flag, activity falls away and resignation sets in concerning the stubborn excess flab still mocking you each time you look in the mirror. The main reason for this is that people fail to come to terms with how they got to be overweight in the first place and the amount of effort required to reverse the trend. If you are an adult then almost certainly the reason for you being overweight is that you eat too much and don’t do enough exercise. To tackle this problem the solution is quite straightforward ; you need to reduce the amount of food you eat and you need to become more active. There really isn’t much more to it than that. Many overweight people are in a state of denial about their condition. Fanciful ideas about underactive glands and slow metabolic rates are, for all but a very small number of people, nonsense and wishful thinking.

So, what is the best way to begin the process of weight loss without resorting to extreme measures? Exercise will certainly help by burning calories and people who have taken up cycling have reported, in some cases, considerable weight loss but it is important to realise that weight loss through exercise alone can be very slow and it requires patience and determination. Let’s look at the arithmetic.


Suppose you are not excessively overweight and you want to lose a total of 14 pounds, or 6.5 kilos, of fat from various parts of your body (remember there is no such thing as spot reducing). Let us also assume that your weight has stabilised and you intend to lose the weight by exercise alone. You decide to exercise every day. You will need to do brisk aerobics or moderately hard cycling for more than an hour to burn up 500 calories. On a regime such as this it will take you fourteen weeks to lose the target amount of body fat. Very few people will have the time or discipline to undertake such a programme every day for that length of time and those that do so risk becoming fatigued, especially if they embark on such a routine after years of inactivity. This is one reason why there tends to be a big drop in gym attendances after the initial burst of enthusiasm every January. A 30 minute session of light jogging on the treadmill two or three times a week will produce almost imperceptible weight loss and exercisers become disheartened.

It does not follow from this that regular exercise is not worth doing. You may not experience the quick fix promised by some diets but at least you will become fitter and that in itself can create a feel good factor and boost self- esteem. Remember, you can be overweight and still be fitter and healthier that someone who does not exercise but keeps weight down by constantly resorting to questionable eating habits.

If you want to avoid exercise and seek to lose weight through eating restrictions alone then drastic dieting will do it but an extreme diet cannot be sustained for more than a few weeks and many of them involve giving up a recommended, balanced intake of protein, carbohydrates and fats. After the target weight loss has been achieved, the diet is often abandoned and people return to their original eating habits and the weight creeps back on.

The most effective and manageable way to achieve sustainable weight loss is to combine regular exercise with a reduction in food intake. The exercise does not have to be severe but it has to be regular and fairly frequent and the diet restrictions can be effective by eliminating those unnecessary little treats that can be dropped without compromising a balanced diet. For example, eating six chocolate digestives will put back those 500 calories that took over an hour to burn off through aerobics or cycling. So, if you could combine your daily hour of exercise with the giving up of your chocolate biscuits, or their equivalent, your weight loss target of 14 pounds could be achieved in seven weeks, half the time it would take with exercise alone. These relatively small but significant changes in habits can soon bring results without drastic lifestyle changes and therefore create the motivation to continue.

The diet and fitness industry is a multi-million pound affair and bookshelves are heaving under the weight of hundreds of publications telling us the latest secrets but in reality there is no secret to losing weight and getting fitter. The formula is contained in four simple words; eat less, exercise more. It will require discipline and some small sacrifices but the long- term rewards are sustainable and while there are no guarantees that you will live longer, your quality of life will be measurably better.

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