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Pedal pushers

On yer bike is best, says Emily Cubitt.Not got enough spare time to exercise? Can't afford to join the gym? Well perhaps you should start cycling to work in a bid to get fit and healthy for the Christmas party season.

Rather than getting up early to defrost the car and sit in a traffic jam, cycling to school could get you to work refreshed and in half the time.

Ok, so you've not ridden a bike since you were in Year 7 and the thought of dusting it down and braving the roads may seem more trouble than it's worth. But if you take the plunge, the rewards can be enormous.

"Your strength, stamina, aerobic fitness and general muscle function will all be improved through regular cycling," says Kevin Mayne, director of CTC, the UK's cyclists' organisation.

It is a great way to reduce the risk of heart disease, high blood pressure and obesity, as well as encouraging a positive state of mind. And if you cycle to school every day you won't feel so guilty when you reach for the biscuit tin for that afternoon pick-me-up.

Liz Bowgett, 56, a teacher at New City Primary in Newham, east London, loves cycling to school. "You feel so awake when you get there," she says. "It's door to door and I have loads more energy."

Liz has a bag on the front for her books and panniers on the back. She is now so attached to cycling that she recently sold her car and has succeeded in getting pupils and colleagues to take up the sport by providing cheap bikes and free maintenance and advice. Regular cycling PE lessons are now included at her school.

And if shedding that excess weight and clearing your head before another busy day in the classroom is not motivation enough, you'll also be doing your bit for the environment.

Kevin says: "Switching short journeys from car to bicycle will benefit your health and your community. You'll be helping to reduce noise and air pollution, as well as traffic congestion."

A healthy cycle

Strengthens heart muscles and tones legs and bottom.

Resting pulse is lowered and blood fat levels reduced.

Gives a level of fitness equivalent to being 10 years younger.

Average cycling burns 300 calories per hour.

Avoids over-exertion or strain to muscles and joints.

Bicycles require no road tax, MOT, insurance, licensing or fuel - and can be parked free almost anywhere.

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