But did you know that spending time in the saddle can benefit your mental health too?
How cycling improves health
Here are just some of the ways in which cycling can help to boost your mood and protect your mental wellbeing.
Gets you out in the fresh air
Working out in the gym certainly has its benefits, but when it comes to looking after your mental health, exercising outdoors - for example taking a bike ride - may be even better. A study carried out by a team at the Peninsula College of Medicine and Dentistry found that compared with indoor exercise, working out in natural outdoor settings led to greater increases in energy and made people feel more revitalised and positive. It also resulted in greater decreases in anger, depression, confusion and tension.
Reduces stress and anxiety
Racking up the miles on your bike could make you feel more chilled out too. It’s well established that many different types of exercise, including cycling, can help to lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol in your body, reducing anxiety and making you more relaxed. Research published in the British Medical Journal that looked at commuters in Barcelona found that those who travelled by bike were less stressed on average than non-bicycle commuters. So, whether you hop on your bike to get to and from work, or you cycle purely for pleasure, you could be cutting your stress levels in the process.
Gives you the opportunity to socialise
While cycling can be a great solo activity, it’s also perfect if you want a chance to socialise. You might enjoy bike rides with family or friends, or if you’re a more serious cyclist, perhaps you’re involved in a cycling club. Whoever you do it with, social cycling can help to reduce feelings of loneliness and generally boost your mood.
Helps keep your mind sharp
As we age, it’s common for our brains to start to slow down. However, regular exercise has been shown to help protect against this. For example, aerobic exercise is known to improve people’s performance on thinking tests. What’s more, a Dutch study featured in the National Library of Medicine found that exercising on a bike significantly improved brain connectivity.
Experiments have also shown that the hippocampus area of the brain, which is responsible for learning and memory systems, responds strongly to aerobic exercises such as cycling. This brain structure grows as people get fitter.
Regular cycling might even boost your concentration. Studies in children have found that exercise can help to improve their focus.
May enhance your sleep
If you’re someone who’s put in some serious mileage on your bike, you’ll know how satisfying it can be to sink into bed at the end of a long day in the saddle. There’s also research to back up the positive impact of exercise on sleep. Scientists at the University of Georgia studied the health habits of 8,000 men and women over 35 years and found that those who became less fit over time were less likely to enjoy uninterrupted sleep at night. The physical tiredness caused by spending time on your bike may make it easier for you to snooze soundly at night, and exercise might also help you to get better quality kip because of its potential to reduce anxiety.
Everyone knows that not getting enough shuteye can make you feel tired and grumpy the next day, but a lack of sleep over a long period of time can have much more serious consequences than this. For example, it’s associated with mental health problems including anxiety and depression. So, if cycling does indeed make it easier for you to get enough sleep, it could play a role in protecting you from the problems that stem from a lack of rest.
Whether you’re on your mountain bike
negotiating a challenging downhill or you’re navigating busy city streets on your road bike
, you’ll no doubt tend to live in the moment when you’re cycling. Testing your wits and physical endurance means you have to focus on something other than the everyday stresses of life. It can also put you more in touch with the world around you and make you feel more strongly connected to your own body.
Some people call this state mindfulness - and find it helps them to understand themselves better and enjoy life more fully.
As we’ve shown in this blog, there are so many different ways in which cycling can benefit your mental wellbeing. It might not be a panacea for all mental health problems, but it’s certainly another good reason to get on your bike
- as if you needed one!