Riding for your mental health

Cyclists may be forced on to the road if Maple Ridge changes its traffic bylaw. (THE NEWS/files)

Mental health has arguably been the hardest hit and longest lasting consequence of COVID-19 with the fear and isolation which came along with it.

So, in the spirit of the ‘Bell Let’s Talk’ mantra, let’s take a look at why cycling is so effective at promoting good mental health.

Most cyclists intrinsically know that cycling quite simply makes you feel better. It can improve physical fitness of course, be it through structured training or just getting out there and stomping on those pedals. However, and we see this every day at the bike shop, a customer rolls in and says something like “I’m just having so much fun on my bike,” cycling has a huge effect on our mental health as well.

Did you know that cyclists in general suffer roughly 22 per cent less poor mental health days compared to those who don’t exercise? That’s staggering. It is well accepted and research-proven that exercise promotes physical and mental health. However, according to research out of Oxford University, cycling is one of the best types of exercise to promote good mental health, second only to team sports (and if you ride on a team or with a group, your golden!). Oxford University research went on to demonstrate that this mental health benefit is reached by cycling a mere 3-5 forty-five minute rides per week.

Further research by the Global Cycling Network (GCN) dug a bit deeper into the science behind why cycling is so mentally beneficial. They measured brain blood flow during various intensities and found your brain increases frontal lobe activity during riding, most notably at higher intensities. The frontal lobe is responsible for higher cognitive functioning and is extremely important in managing emotions, impulse control and problem solving. These are key areas drastically affected by depression and anxiety.

GCN interpreted this data to mean that cycling elevates brain activity while also providing different stimulus to different people. For example, some of us crave those high intensity activities and the hyper-focus that comes with it, while others enjoy a more relaxed pace which frees up the brain to focus on other tasks like conversation or even meditation on a solo ride. Either way, your brain is utilizing your ride to focus on the task at hand in a more organized and orderly fashion and this ‘brain practice’ translates into better mental wellness.

GCN also highlighted that cycling is an activity that is so varied that you can choose, from ride to ride, what you want. It’s like a health treatment that can be individually tailored to your specific needs. Even for the most intense, competitive, and race-focused cyclist there must be a balance between structured training and more fun-focused rides or there is risk of serious burnout. Some of us lean more towards the chatty social rides, while others prefer more structured solo ventures. Some crave adventure during an overnight trip while others battle online competition on their indoor bike. To each their own, but what is unique about cycling when compared to other activities is that you can choose to do any and all types of cycling.

To sum up: riding is really good for you and your mental health! In the words of the great Eddy Merckx “Ride as much or as little, as long or as short as you feel. But ride.”

– Submitted by Pedal Your World