Most Wednesdays at 5:30 p.m., weather permitting, an informal group of Pittsburgh Mercy colleagues and friends who enjoy recreational bicycling gather in the parking lot at 1200 Reedsdale Street on the North Side to unwind, socialize, exercise, and explore Pittsburgh at a slower, relaxed pace. We affectionately call ourselves the “Pittsburgh Mercy Wellness Wheelers.”
We have approximately 10 regular riders who’ve been getting together since 2010. The number of participants varies, but we all share one thing in common: Our love of leisurely bicycling.
“Riding with the Wheelers provides me with a number of benefits,” said Michelle Harper, a supervisor at Pittsburgh Mercy’s Ross Center Adult Training Facility in Ross Township. “It encourages me to get out and enjoy some good, regularly scheduled, aerobic exercise.”
The Wheelers enjoy riding for many reasons. The benefits of cycling are almost as long as Pittsburgh’s vast and beautiful riverfront trail system:
Cycling improves fitness.
Bicycling is good for your physical health. Cycling burns as many calories as jogging, but with fewer, long-term negative impacts on the joints. Cycling also improves cardiovascular and aerobic fitness, lowers blood pressure, boosts energy, builds muscle, and improves coordination.
Cycling improves happiness.
Numerous studies show that exercise can reduce anxiety and improve sleep patterns. Improved self-esteem is a benefit of regular physical activity. Exercise releases adrenalin and endorphins, naturally occurring chemicals in the body that can help to boost mood.
Cycling improves brain health.
Another study found that during exercise, cyclists’ blood flow in the brain increased by 28 percent, and up to 70 percent in specific areas. Even after exercising, blood flow in some areas of the brain remained 40 percent higher. Exercise repeatedly has been linked to brain health. It also decreases our chance of developing dementia later in life.
Cycling improves social well-being.
Being outdoors, exploring new views of our city, and sharing meals with friendly people can help improve our sense of connection and broaden our social circle.
“It allows me to interact with co-workers and other participants in a relaxed environment away from day-to-day work and life stresses,” said Harper. “It also encourages me to try new restaurants.” All rides attempt to have a dinner snack stop at various local restaurants on the North Side, on the South Side, in the Strip District, in Downtown, or in the West End.
“There’s always another eatery around the next bend,” added maintenance supervisor and cycling enthusiast Russ Zarzeczny. “Keep biking!”
Cycling improves spiritual well-being.
Becoming mindful of the colors, sights, smells, and sounds we experience while bicycling is a wonderful way to connect to nature on a deeper, more profound level.
“It reinforces in me what a beautiful city we share as we get to view it from different vantage points along our river trails and city streets,” said Harper. “It’s hard to forget watching the sun set from the fountain at Point State Park, watching an eagle soar from its nest in Hays, watching rowers practice along the Allegheny River near Washington’s Landing, and the eerie foreboding of the jail.”
The Pittsburgh Mercy Wellness Wheelers look forward to adding new riders to the group. Riders are responsible for their own bicycles, helmets, water, and dinner. If you’re interested in joining us for a leisurely ride, please contact us at 412-670-5555.
No bike? No problem! Healthy Ride, Pittsburgh’s bike share system, offers bicycle rental stations in convenient locations throughout the city, including South 12th and East Carson streets on the South Side and Isabella and Federal streets, on the North Side, near PNC Park.
Debbie Williamson, MM, CPRP, is a program specialist with one of Pittsburgh Mercy’s Community Living Arrangements. An avid bicyclist since the age of 5, she’s been pedaling with the Pittsburgh Mercy Wellness Wheelers since 2010.