Having already earned his bachelor’s, master’s, and doctorate degrees from the University of Colorado, Dr. James Peterman said he was drawn to Ball State University due to its focus on uncovering lesser-known aspects of exercise physiology.

That kind of research, he concluded, was the logical next step in his career. Dr. Peterman had already studied, taught, and coached various exercise performance methods for years, but there was much more to discover in this area — and Ball State was the perfect place to do it.

Now approaching his third year at the University as a Research Associate and instructor at the College of Health’s Fisher Institute of Health and Well-Being, Dr. Peterman certainly has immersed himself in this work.

Recently, for example, Dr. Peterman’s 2016 study on the effect of e-bikes caught the attention of the Recreational Equipment, Inc. (REI) Co-op Journal and its article “Can You Get Exercise Riding an E-Bike?

The short answer to that question, Dr. Peterman noted, is yes.

“E-bikes make cycling a lot more fun, especially for those who maybe don’t have the highest fitness level or confidence,” Dr. Peterman told the publication.

Revealing research

Popular in Asia for decades, the electric bike has been hitting streets in the United States with more regularity since 2009. Commonly used as food delivery vehicles in big cities, e-bikes have seen an increase in viability following the need for individualized transportation during the COVID-19 pandemic. According to Forbes, the sale of e-bikes will continue to grow from 3.7 million bikes sold in 2019 to 17 million in 2030.

To Dr. Peterman’s point, the draw of e-bikes is less strain on the body for avid cyclists and novices alike. Dr. Peterman’s 2016 study, Pedelecs as a Physically Active Transportation Mode, he said, revealed a lot about this newer form of transportation and its effect on fitness.

“We found individuals rode an e-bike at a moderate intensity that helped them meet physical activity recommendations,” Dr. Peterman recently told the Ball State Blog. “Additionally, four weeks of e-bike commuting resulted in improvements in glucose regulation and improvements in aerobic fitness measures.”

On a less scientific note, Dr. Peterman noted that the 20 sedentary study participants particularly enjoyed the e-bikes, with more than half riding 50 percent over the minimum required distance.

“There are different types of e-bikes,” Dr. Peterman said. “There are throttle e-bikes that are essentially mopeds. The e-bikes used in our study were pedal-assist that only provide assistance when you are pedaling.”

Dr. Peterman prefers pedal-assist e-bikes, because they promote physical activity—a concept that can be separated into two categories. Exercise refers to planned physical activity, while lifestyle physical activity incorporates movement into time that is traditionally sedentary.

This e-bike study focused on participants riding at a moderate intensity to achieve physical activity guidelines without setting aside time for exercise.

Future studies

Dr. Peterman’s passion for cycling and fitness is clear. And he is currently continuing his academic pursuits in both areas by studying physically active commuting and the classification of aerobic fitness levels.

“Active commuting is associated with reduced risk for cardiovascular disease, including heart attack, stroke, and coronary heart disease,” Dr. Peterman said. “We are also creating reference standards so that clinicians and health professionals can better classify health risk for their patients.”

E-bikes can play a large role in active commuting as well. With a top speed of 20-28 mph, the motor assistance makes traversing hills easier and distances seem shorter.

In short, whether you’re a seasoned cyclist or a beginner, Dr. Peterman believes e-bikes are a great way to get your fitness back on the road—no matter what challenges might lie ahead.

“Some of these deterrents are also present for cycling as a form of exercise and can also be overcome with e-bikes,” Dr. Peterman said. “They are a lot of fun. And no matter a person’s background, they can promote cycling over car use and can promote exercise.”

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