There are so many reasons why you might cycle, with things like physical fitness, socialising, cheap and quick commute, fresh air and more engagement with your environment, just the tip of the iceberg. Whatever your reason there is for taking to two wheels an added benefit you will reap no matter where or how you ride is a mental health boost.
When it comes to stress relief cycling is at the top of the list as one of the most effective stress treatments and has even been proven to have an effect as powerful as meditation.
Exercise has been so well received that many doctors are prescribing exercise therapy as their number one treatment method for depression and stress, a far cry from even five years ago, when medication was quick to be passed over the counter.
Not only can it help with stress itself exercise also works to eliminate the big side effects of stress too. Stress often causes sleep issues, which in turn create fatigue, elevate cortisol levels which creates more stress! Sleep problems get wiped out after some solid exercise, especially exercise outside in the sunshine, helping to get your circadian rhythm back and find that off switch.
Bike riding, far more so than other exercises is something that is accessible and available to just about everyone. Even those with past injuries or arthritis can manage some form of exercise on a bike, and it’s perfect for all ages and fitness levels.
Wouldn’t it be amazing though if we didn’t wait for the doctor’s prescription to jump on a bike and bust the stress? More often than not that visit to a professional comes after months, if not years of stress overload and overbearing symptoms. It’s usually when you stop being able to function well that you seek help and admit, but it doesn’t need to be that way. Just going for a short stress relieving ride on a regular basis can really make a difference and hopefully prevent that mental collapse from fatigue from ever taking place.
We just had World Mental Health Day last month and it’s a great day to open up awareness and conversation around subjects of mental health that have in the past been considered closed door, ‘private’ issues, but let’s not restrict these conversations to days on a calendar, let’s be comfortable talking about how we feel and sharing what makes us feel better, because we all have stress in our lives and get those days or weeks of total overwhelming emotion. And for those of us who exercise and cycle we know that we need to get out and get on the road when that happens, we itch for a long ride and won’t settle until it happens because intrinsically, we know that there is relief coming in that.
So if we talk about it and say things like, “I feel like that too but I just go for a ride and I feel better. When I get back and I can think straight and I feel calm”, we are actually passing on information other people can use to empower themselves.
For anyone who doesn’t exercise regularly they probably have no idea why we do what we do; why we push so hard to go further and harder and longer. It looks like hard work sweat and effort, and yes, okay it is but the high you feel, the release and the energy that you get from it is so incredible it outweighs the discomfort and the effort by far.
Studies in positive emission tomography (PET) have proven that exercise binds more endorphins (happy hormones) in your brain, particularly the frontal and limbic regions, which are the two areas responsible for stress management and emotional processing.
Which is another reason why cycling is a great exercise to take up to de-stress, studies on ‘runner’s high’ show that you need to sustain your run for at least one hour before you have enough endorphins bound to get a real buzz. Running for two hours seems a little tough, but a two-hour cycle, not that’s a nice day out!
Which isn’t to say you have to go out chasing a high, a little can go a long way, for example, you only need to increase your aerobic exercise level by 5% to see a 15% improvement in your stress management ability.
Examples of aerobic exercise
- Brisk walking (outside or inside on a treadmill)
- Riding your bicycle outside
- Low-impact aerobics classes
- Swimming or water aerobic exercises
- Skating (ice or roller)
- Riding a stationary bike indoors
- Cross-country skiing
Aerobic exercise like cycling boosts blood flow which means more oxygen is demanded and distributed to your body, giving your brain a much-needed air boost. If you were wondering why you feel out of breath when you exercise, your body is breathing more deeply and using more of the air you inhale completely. To help your body during exercise actively think about your breathing and taking in more air.
How does this help with stress? One of the key things about stress is the extra CO2 that builds up in your body. Waves of regular, fresh oxygen force that excess CO2 out of your system and replaces it with air you can actually use.
Lastly, the real reason why cycling is so phenomenal as a stress reliever is the rhythm.
There simply is nothing like the up and down pace your legs get into. It has a hypnotic effect, similar to listening to white noise, your brain just calms down and you focus only on the here and now. It’s the road ahead and the air in your lungs and nothing else.
So if you or someone you know needs some motivation to get cycling, I can’t think of anything better than a healthy life, inside and out.
Gaining a clear mind from time spent on the bike? That’s freedom!