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Walking or biking to work can be a great way to get exercise

Jenny Hein and Brigette Langmade Polmar of SqueezeItIn.com demonstrate three exercises commuters can do while riding the Metro.

And then there is clothing: Epstein brings an extra outfit to work the day before a run. Silver stuffs his in a backpack but appreciates his proximity to Filene's Basement on days he forgets socks or a belt.

NPR's Sarah Lumbard, 43, who's working to organize her office's sizable cycling contingent with regular gatherings, has my favorite approach: Before donning her riding gear, she gets dressed in what she plans to wear at work that day. "So I have everything: the right bra, the right shoes," she says. She stuffs the outfit into her saddlebag, changes into exercise gear, and she's ready to ride.

The best-case scenario is having a locker room in your office building, so you can store emergency clothes and have a place to wash up. A close second is joining a gym nearby, which also gives you the chance to pair your cardio with strength training. Otherwise, you have to limit your exertion level to what can be easily freshened with paper towels and water.

Switching gears

The logistics of an exercise commute can be difficult to manage, but at least they're not scary. That is how many folks view biking to work. Sherry Marts, 54, was terrified, too. The executive director of the Genetics Society of America hadn't really gotten on a bike since childhood, and she had never attempted to ride in traffic. But her husband, Larry Haller, also 54, was determined to teach her what he'd learned about bike commuting to the Department of Agriculture: It was time-efficient, improved his mood and kept him from feeling his age. "I just imagine what kind of shape I'd be in if I didn't do it. I know it would take a huge amount of discipline to go to the gym every day. This, I just do. It doesn't take any discipline," Haller says.

The couple started riding together to boost her confidence, and now she's a convert. Not only is she getting 45 minutes of cardio each way from the District's Shepherd Park neighborhood to Bethesda, she's also strengthening her muscles on those hills. "I feel it up to my butt," she says. Plus, she likes that it has improved her balance. "That's one of the things that starts to go when you get older," Marts says.

Spin doctor

It helps to have a mentor show you the ropes. But if you're not into hanging out by bike racks to make friends, as Marts suggests, you can call up the Washington Area Bicyclist Association (202-518-0524) and ask for "bike ambassador" Daniel Hoagland, who visits area offices to give talks on cycling commutes, covering everything from picking your wheels to D.C. biking laws.

Two weeks ago at the K Street law firm McKenna, Long & Aldridge, Hoagland gave his spiel to the staff, which already had several dedicated riders. One of them is Charmaine Ruppolt, a 52-year-old legal secretary who rides in daily from Arlington. She credits the regular exercise with keeping her healthy, which means instead of taking sick days, she gets more vacation time. To go biking, of course.

Part of the pitch is that you don't need to start out by copying Ruppolt. Hoagland encourages folks to try it once a month, if that's all they're comfortable with. His most popular prop at the seminars is a folding bike he can collapse in seconds, so it's easy to take home on the Metro if round-trip riding wears you out. (You can take regular bikes on Metro, too, but not during rush hour.)

When traffic seems daunting, change your route to a more peaceful ride that may also take longer. It isn't chickening out. The farther you bike, the better the workout, which matters to 48-year-old Yali Fu. She grew up in China, where her parents biked to work because they were too poor to afford an alternative. The National Cancer Institute employee does it instead to cross-train for marathons, prepare for longer rides and boost her mental health. "It really releases pressure, and I have time to get my mind organized," she says.

Bet you've never said that about being stuck in traffic.


Resources for exercising while commuting

Mass-transit maneuvers

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