By Luke S. Mitchell
The connection between physical activity and soundness of mind has long been emphasized by both athletes and the medical community alike. And out of all the possible sports that you would benefit from in this regard, nothing beats a classic bike ride or its indoor counterpart.
How Cycling Improves Mental Health
Cycling is a great sport overall, but by far the most incredible thing about it is that it’s versatile. It doesn’t matter whether you take your bike out in the park or you’re participating in your gym’s best spinning workout routine, your mental health is still bound to improve. Here’s how that happens.
1. It Boosts Mood
If you’ve been riding your bike for a while, then you might have noticed that it can leave you feeling recharged and ready to take on the world, which is undoubtedly beneficial when you’re struggling with poor mental health. There is a strong link between cycling and mood improvement, and there is plenty of research to back that up.
One creative study conducted indoors in 2012 has revealed that participants who had participated in a simulated nature exercises reported less of a negative mood overall following the trial. This was mainly due to videos of lush, leafy and green scenery being projected to them in order to mimic actual environmental conditions.
Thus, scenery plays a big part in the beneficial effects of biking on mood and overall mental state. But another important part has to do with the process of exercising itself, which is why indoor cycling can be equally efficient. In fact, as little as five minutes of moderate physical activity has incredibly positive effects on your overall mood. And medical science backs it up.
According to trials conducted by James Blumenthal, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist from Duke University, working out has similar effects to those of antidepressants. This is great news especially for those of us who don’t want to rely on medication to improve their well-being. So, the next time you’re feeling down, try going for a quick bike ride instead.
2. It Relieves Stress
Cycling has been proven to be one of the best physical activities to help relieve the stress that comes with daily life. There are quite a few reasons for it, too. First and foremost, the action of pedaling at a steady pace can induce a meditative state of sorts which helps clear and balance the mind. All you need is to focus on the motion and ignore everything else.
And while biking through rush hour traffic on your way to work can be a stressor in itself, the versatility of this action allows you to take it out into nature and enjoy a few hours of physical exercise combined with peace and relaxation. Furthermore, if you’re an urban soul deep down, a quiet residential neighborhood works just as well.
The repetitive act of pedaling at a steady pace acts as a type of mindfulness meditation for many. Due to the fact that you have something constant to focus on, you are able to clear your mind and balance your inner world, which is hugely important when you’re suffering from disorders of the mind that produce stress in your life.
3. It Helps with Recovery
According to Richard Lord, a cycling coach from Edinburgh who has been struggling with depression for almost two decades, the activity has been a true life saver for him. When Lord was in his teens, he had dreams of participating in the Tour de France. But he never made the cut, and that’s when his disorder struck him worst.
He felt dread when merely thinking of getting back on the back again, so he avoided it for the longest time. However, deciding to give it another chance was the best decision he ever made for his mental health, and his family agrees. Thus, regular bike rides are indeed a great ally in the recovery process associated with mental illness.
Once you decide to get into it, it’s important to start off slow so that you don’t end up overwhelmed. Head out early in the morning when you feel refreshed, and if it doesn’t feel like it’s working don’t be afraid to return home. Just try again the next day. You will eventually manage to reach a point where you feel better.
Whether you prefer your bike to be inside the house or out in the wild, your mental health is still bound to improve. Nevertheless, traditional cycling has the added benefit of natural scenery which helps soothe your spirit and gives you valuable peace of mind. So, don’t be afraid to try something new.
Luke S. Mitchell is an MS Undergraduate in Sports Journalism and manager of ExerciseBikesExpert. He is interested not only in the mind-body relationship and how motivation shapes our bodies but also in how we draw energy just from one simple yet powerful thought.
You can find him on Facebook and Twitter