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A rich reward of fitness awaits bike riders

When Don and Darla Daley dine at restaurants near their Royal Oak, Mich., home, they no longer drive their car.

It's the same with quick trips to the store or nearby Royal Oak Farmers Market. They hop on the bicycles they bought two years ago -- their favorite form of recreation and exercise.

The Daleys are discovering what many people are getting to know. Bicycling is a great route to fun and fitness for people of all ages.

In the two years since the Daleys purchased their bikes, Darla, 46, has lost 142 pounds and Don, 51, has lost 68.

And Darla dramatically reduced the medications she takes for high blood pressure.

Biking alone didn't do it. Before they bought their bicycles they joined Weight Watchers and began to work out with a personal trainer. But, they say, biking is the most consistent exercise they do and the exercise program they've stuck with the longest.

"I don't think I would have been as successful without the biking," Darla says.

They do it because it's fun and they can incorporate it into their daily lives, so working out doesn't feel like work. Even in the winter, they ride their bikes at home on trainers -- equipment that turns the bicycles into stationary bikes.

Like many cyclists, the Daleys are grateful for the longer daylight hours and warmer weather that gets them back outdoors.

May, the unofficial start of the bicycling season, is filled with a variety of cycling events in towns and cities nationwide.

Bicycling benefits the mind and body, health professionals say.

"Biking builds stamina and upper and lower body strength," says Dr. Ronny Otero, head of Emergency Medicine at Henry Ford Hospital's Sterling Heights Medical Center. "Studies show that people who bike have better moods and are more efficient workers."

"Biking burns a lot of calories without burning you up, and it's a good exercise for the brain," says family medicine physician Lee Green, professor of medicine at the University of Michigan Health System. "A good workout on the bike can help you unwind."

It offers variety, too, he says.

"It's a sport that can be done pretty much any way you like -- from a leisure ride to a high-speed, long-distance race," he says. "Pretty much anyone can do it because it's easy on your joints."

Bicycling is relatively safe, doctors say.

"As a physician, I see more serious consequences from not biking," Green says. "I'd rather treat people for scrapes or a broken collarbone than heart attacks because they didn't bike. Biking is much safer than the sofa. It's sitting on the sofa that kills."

Cycling enthusiasts say with a little planning, it's something you can incorporate into your daily life.

Brian Kozeliski, 41, a portfolio manager for Munder Capital Management, rides frequently from his Rochester, Mich., home to his job in Birmingham, Mich. -- about a 20-mile route that avoids main streets.

"It's much less stressful," Kozeliski says. "And in the summer, with all the construction, getting home by car takes longer than on the bike because I'm stuck in traffic."

Biking is the main fitness activity for Carol Malone, 55, of St. Clair Shores, Mich. The nurse and mother of four has been doing the annual Make-a-Wish Ride (covering 300 miles in three days) every year since 2007. And she says she feels better with each passing year.

"You can ride alongside someone who's 90 or someone who's 18," Malone says. "What you have in common is the road. I love it. It's just so freeing. You get on the bike and you have to power to get places just by pedaling. It's very empowering. You set a goal and it can be achieved through cycling. You just keep pedaling."

That's the lesson the Daleys learned one mile at a time.

When the Daleys purchased their cruisers two years ago, riding a few blocks through their neighborhood left them exhausted. They'd see groups of cyclists speeding past their home and think -- nice, but never!

But after a few times out, they joined a Wednesday night group ride from the Continental Bike Shop in Hazel Park, Mich.

"I thought I was going to die," Darla Daley says of their first time out on the 15-mile ride through Hazel Park and northwest Detroit.

Now the weekly rides are a breeze for the Daleys. They do weekend rides of up to 50 miles and weekday rides as often as their schedules allow. In addition, they make it a point to take their bikes to places they used to drive.

"You see things you don't normally see driving by in a car, even in your own neighborhood," Don Daley says.

"I never thought I'd love it as much as I do," Darla Daley says. "Other bikers wave at you. It's just fun."