Health benefits of bike park confirmed by study 

Downhilling qualifies as 'moderate to vigorous aerobic exercise intensity'

click to enlarge PHOTO SUBMITTED - GEAR HEAD Whistler's Katrina Strand, wearing a mask to measure her breathing, was among Dr. Jamie Burr's test subjects last September.
  • photo submitted
  • GEAR HEAD Whistler's Katrina Strand, wearing a mask to measure her breathing, was among Dr. Jamie Burr's test subjects last September.

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"My feeling is that unless you're a bike bum in Whistler and you can do this every day, then most people (who downhill) are not meeting their (fitness) demands that way," said Burr. "But as part of an overall program for health, it works."

Another caveat to the health benefits of downhilling is the fact that it's not a full body workout. "Yes, riders are working hard, but there are certain parts of fitness that they are not working on," he said. "You use certain muscles more than others, the flexibility is not there. It's very different than something like jogging.

"Should it be the only thing that somebody does? Probably not. But the evidence is that if you do it safely and don't get injured, then you can use it as part of a program."

As for the question of whether the benefits outweigh the risks, or vice versa, Burr said that's a difficult question. "We could probably put a dollar value on it, the cost of injuries versus how much you avoid chronic disease by being active," he said. "And what do chronic diseases cost, and what does it cost the health care system to treat these injuries. Some say in downhill mountain biking it's not a question of if you'll crash, it's a question of when you crash. It's going to happen.

"But you also have to look at things like quality of life — are people's lives better because they participate in these things? I think most people in the sport would say yes. And if they aren't downhill mountain biking, are they going to seek out something else that's equally invigorating to them? I think the answer for a lot of people would also be yes."

Looking at the lift lines at the Whistler Mountain Bike Park, Burr said you'd notice that most of the people in line are relatively fit. However, he said it's likely that people that are fit already would be attracted to the sport, versus "couch potatoes" that might see the sport and decide that the risk is too high.

One thing that Burr likes about mountain biking in general is the progression. In other activities you can plateau more easily and get less health benefits, while in mountain biking you can always ride harder and longer trails, change up styles and more. "As you get better you can still challenge yourself to advance to the next level, so it's neat that there's this built-in progression to it," he said.

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