Whilst virtually all exercise is beneficial for general, ‘whole body’ health, there are some forms of exercise that are especially good for positive mental health – and cycling is one of them.
Studies have found that the combination of cardiovascular exercise and exposure to the outdoors is powerful for improving emotional and mental health. This one-two combination is now considered to be a key therapeutic component of many strategies to combat depression, anxiety, and stress.
Cycling is highlighted again and again as being particularly useful for positive mental health – that’s why it fits perfectly with our mission here at cycleWELL.
Cycling is easily accessible to most, and the rhythmic, aerobic and low impact nature of cycling has proven brain-boosting benefits.
Cycling can be easily incorporated into your daily routine by using a bike for your commute to work or a quick trip to the nearby shops.
Of course, many people cycle simply because it makes them happy. Beyond the ‘happiness factor’ and the general mental health benefits of exercise, there are a host of specific benefits of cycling, which make it an ever-increasing part of many peoples ‘mental health tool kit’.
Mental and emotional health benefits of cycling:
It improves your mood. Regular cyclists often talk about the “cycling high”, cousin to the well-recognised “runner’s high”. Cycling pumps blood around your body at a greater rate which allows for the rapid spread of endorphins and other good substances like dopamine, norepinephrine and serotonin.
It promotes positive mental health. Self-esteem, depression, anxiety and stress are all positively affected through exercise, but the nature of cycling has been shown to be one of the most effective activities for the head and heart.
It helps you sleep better. Regular riding helps synchronise your circadian rhythm and can help to reduce levels of stress hormones that can make proper regenerative, deep sleep difficult.
Improves your memory. Riding a bike helps to build new brain cells that are responsible for memory. See the ‘your brain on biking’ section later in this piece for more.
Improves creative thinking. The regular, uniform movement of cycling has a relaxing effect on the brain, stabilising both physical and mental function.
Cycling promotes new thought patterns that promote feelings of calm and well-being. It can be a great way to “zone out,” but you can even use it for a form of meditation. Tip: Concentrate on the actions, each movement of your legs, the rhythm of your breathing, the wind on your face. Focus only on the physical sensations and actions of riding and you may be surprised just how easily your mind clears.
It may benefit your (ahem) bedroom activities. Cycling exercises the same key muscles we use when making love. Enough said?
Your brain on cycling
Cycling can grow your brain in the same way it can grow your muscles. Blood flow to the brain increases just as it does with the muscles, bringing in more oxygen and nutrients that can improve its performance.
Riding increases the production of proteins used for creating new brain cells by two or three times the norm! It also increases the activities that allow the different regions of our brain to communicate more effectively.
Cycling has also been shown to counteract the natural decline of brain function and development as we age.
Cycling lends itself quite easily to joining a group of like-minded people, as former Australian Rugby professional Mat Rogers recently advised – “I think that blokes in a cycling bunch would be the least depressed of any group of men because they get stuff off their chest, they talk, and they don’t feel like they’re getting looked down on or judged.”
How often should you cycle to get the benefits?
Scientists suggest that 30-60 minutes of steady riding at a good pace (no sprinting required) is a good balance. Maintaining a heart rate at roughly 75% of your maximum is also suggested. Researchers suggest that three to five sessions a week is required to get maximum physical, mental and emotional health benefits from your cycling.
However, if you are like many of us and simply can’t achieve this many sessions in a week due to family, work and other commitments – never fear – evidence also exists which suggests that the ‘weekend warriors’ among us, those who cram most (or all) of our cycling into the weekend – can still achieve excellent and lasting physical, mental and emotional health benefits from our time spent in lycra!
Spinning your way through as little as two sessions per week can be enough to get some of the the benefits of cycling flowing your way.
Next time you are out on the bike by yourself or with your cycling mates, have a think about how many of these benefits that you share. Better still (if you are with a group) – talk about them with each other and share the positivity that cycling brings to your life.
Thanks for reading.