A Short Summary of Mental and Physical Health Benefits of Cycling

By Siegfried Mortkowitz

It’s not startling news to declare that cycling regularly is good for you. Because it is done outdoors, often in a park or the countryside, it provides benefits that indoor exercise – even on a bicycle trainer – can’t. And because, unlike jogging, say, it is low impact, it has few, if any, negative effects on the body.

Because it is an aerobic activity, the heart, blood vessels and lungs all get a great workout. You breathe deeper, perspire and raise your body temperature, which improves overall fitness. The many physical health benefits of regular cycling include:

• increased cardiovascular fitness
• increased muscle strength and flexibility
• improved joint mobility
• decreased stress levels
• improved posture and coordination
• strengthened bones
• decreased body fat levels
• prevention or management of disease.

Urban cycling in winter
The positive effects of cycling on your health are undeniable. © Profimedia

But cycling is not only good for the body. If you are a cyclist and get on the bike regularly, you will know how your mood improves after a good ride – and the feeling stays with you for days, which makes it an ideal activity for these lockdown times. That’s just another benefit of cycling: it is good for your brain.

Cycling can “grow” your brain in the same way it can grow your muscles. The increased blood flow brings more oxygen and nutrients to the brain that can improve its performance. For example, cycling increases two- or threefold the production of proteins the body uses to create new brain cells and increases the processes that enable the different regions of the brain to communicate with each other.

Cycling in winter
Cycling improves your mental health. © Profimedia

And cycling also produces physical changes that improve your mental health. For example, the increased blood circulation enables the rapid spread of endorphins, dopamine, norepinephrine and serotonin, which aid in reducing anxiety and fighting depression. It also reduces your levels of the so-called stress hormone cortisol, and stress can trigger other, more severe mental health conditions.

Cycling also helps you sleep better because it helps to synchronize your circadian rhythms and reduces the stress and anxiety that often make regenerative sleep difficult.

Because cycling makes you feel positive about yourself, as you become more fit and disciplined, it improves your self-esteem in other areas of your life, such as work or school. Regular cycling – three times a week or more – can actually reduce your chances of becoming depressed.

Autumn cycling
Focus on the physical sensations of your body. © Profimedia

Another benefit of cycling is that it also promotes new thought patterns that help produce feelings of calm and wellbeing. As you ride, try to concentrate on the movement of your legs, the rhythm of your breathing or even the wind on your face. As you focus on the physical sensations and actions of riding, cycling becomes a form of meditation that helps to clear your mind and rid it of all the thoughts that worry you.

In a 2017 UK study of 11,482 cyclists, 90 percent said that off-road cycling was fairly or very important to their physical health, and 91 percent said that it was fairly or very important for their mental health.

So if you’re feeling a little down about the way the world is at present, there’s an easy remedy. Go out there and ride!