The benefits of cycling may be too numerous to list, but there are probably some aspects they you may not have thought about before. We all know that riding a bike is great for your physical health, but what about your mental health?
There has always been a link between exercise and improved mood, as studies through the years have revealed, but it goes beyond just a good mood. As more and more research is being done, there is a clear link between exercise (specifically outdoor exercise) and combatting depression, anxiety, and stress.
Although many people may, at first, hop on a bike to lose weight or embrace an active lifestyle, a very valuable side effect is a happier, more stable life. Mental health may be an even stronger predictor of life expectancy than physical health, so it is one of the most valuable benefits of cycling.
Top 10 Benefits of Cycling for Your Mental Health
1. Promotes an Overall Healthy Lifestyle
Exercise should be something you look forward to in your day, not something you’re just checking off the to-do list. It should be so a part of your lifestyle that it becomes less about burning calories and more about how it makes you feel. Cycling is one of the greatest forms of exercise within everyday life. Not every ride has to be a huge ordeal, but even a half hour ride or a commute to and from work can have huge benefits both physically and mentally. It doesn’t have to be competitive or even goal focused, but can be a way to get outside and leave all that stress at the office.
2. Natural High (Endorphins!)
People often overlook this fact, but have you ever wondered why individuals that are physically active always seem so much happier than those that aren’t? It’s not just a coincidence, and it actually has a lot to do with the chemicals inside of your brain. When we cycle, our heart pumps blood to every single blood vessel and cell at a greater rate. With blood comes oxygen, and oxygen plays host to endorphins!
Endorphins are a microscopic chemical that help us to feel good. The more endorphins we have, the happier we feel. Just a few hours of cycling a week can trigger a consistent flow of these chemicals, and they aren’t just great for your emotions – they have also been linked to fighting illnesses like Alzheimer’s!
3. It’s a Healthy Addiction
We all have our vices, the things that we turn to in times of stress or emotional trauma. Cycling can replace the more harmful addictions such as cigarettes, alcohol, or overeating and serve as that go-to thing that you know will make you feel better. Sometimes it’s tough to find the motivation (yes, sitting on the couch eating chips may be easier), but you’ll never regret getting out there. Make cycling your first plan of attack, and you may just find yourself not being able to stop.
4. Creative Breakthrough
Many creatives such as writers, musicians, and artists use exercise as a means of getting past mental blocks. I know I’ve had some of my best ideas come to me while out on a bike! The uniform movement of cycling has a relaxing effect on the brain, stabilizing both physical and mental function. A recent study showed that after just 30 minutes of cycling, participants scored higher on tests of memory, reasoning, and planning. So, instead of banging your head on your desk or scrolling through Facebook, try heading out for a ride.
5. Better Sleep
Exercise has been shown to help regulate your sleep patterns. One reason may be the body-heating effects of exercise and cycling in particular. The increased temperature followed by the post-ride drop promotes falling asleep through decreasing arousal, anxiety, and stress.
6. Fights Anxiety and Depression
Cycling can, for some people, be as effective as medication–without the side effects. This isn’t true for everyone, of course, but trying exercise as means of fighting depression can be a great first step. Cycling promotes all kinds of changes in the brain, including new thought patterns that promote feelings of calm and well-being. Plus, you have those endorphins kicking around, which can act as powerful chemicals within the brain.
Cycling also relieves tension and stress, boosts mental and physical energy, and can help fight anxiety. It can be a great way to “zone out,” but you can also use it as a time to focus in and even meditate. Pay attention to each rotation of your legs, the rhythm of your breathing, the wind on your face. It may sound cliche, but this will leave no room for the otherwise constant flow of worries running through your mind.
7. Increases your Self-Esteem
There’s no better feeling than tackling a tough climb and knowing it’s nothing but your own physical and mental strength getting you to the top. You will feel strong and powerful, and that begins to make it’s way into the other parts of your life. You will feel better about your appearance, and will have a sense of achievement as you meet and surpass goals you set for yourself.
8. Stress Buster
With so many jobs now tied to computers and chairs, stress has a way of tensing our bodies, making them exhausted and sore by the end of the day. You may find you suffer from back and neck pain, or constant headaches from stress. This can become a cycle that feeds itself, with stress going in and exhaustion coming out. Cycling can be a great way to break the cycle and relieve tension in the body. In turn, as your body relaxes, so will your mind as that stress begins to lift from your shoulders.
9. Increased Focus
Cycling and physical activity immediately boost the brain’s dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin levels—all of which affect focus and attention.
10. More Energy
It may seem counterintuitive, but exercise is one of the best ways to gain more energy. Yes, you are using physical energy on your ride, but spending time with that elevated heart rate will give you a boost of energy.