While just about everybody is familiar with some of the health benefits of cycling (from your hamstrings to your heart), a less-discussed aspect is the difference it can make to your mind. At a time when mental health is a hot topic all around the world, people are beginning to look at hobbies and pastimes in a whole new light – and cycling is proving to be a fascinating case study.
From the known positives of exercise of any sort, to the impacts that cycling can specifically deliver, you’d be amazed at how cycling can affect your brain. With that in mind, we’ve taken a closer look at some of the ways in which getting on your bike can help your mental wellbeing…
Out and about
By now, you’ll more than likely know that getting exercise is consistently identified as one of the most beneficial thing you can possibly do when it comes to mental health; whether reducing stress and bumping your endorphin levels, or simply making it more likely to get a good night’s sleep, physical activity is hard to beat – as proven by more studies than we could count.
It’s also well documented that there’s tremendous positives to being in the great wide open – something just about every man, woman and child on the planet will have noticed during some of the harsh lockdowns during the pandemic. Being closer to nature, filling your lungs with fresh air, and sampling some calm and serenity under the open sky can do wonders for a person’s head.
So it should come as little enough surprise that cycling, in combining the two, is readily acknowledged as a particularly potent weapon in ensuring our mental health is at its best; something a micro-adventure in the saddle can certainly help with!
Let’s get physical!
As well as being a great all-round workout, there are specific benefits to cycling which can help your brain function in ways you mightn’t anticipate. The repetitive action of turning the pedals stabilises your physical and mental function, in a very literal sense; that helps the mind to relax and can also facilitate better creative thought.
Furthermore, that old nugget of “just like riding a bike” in reference to things you’ll always remember? It turns out there’s very real science involved; cycling can increase the production of brain cells almost three-fold, meaning your cognitive abilities improve in the process. And, of course, no avid cyclist will need to be told about how a long ride can help you focus; when people are turning to meditation, adult colouring books and all manner of other techniques to achieve some mindful moments, there’s nothing quite like getting out of the saddle to climb a daunting hill to ensure there’s no room in your mind for thinking about anything else!
All together now
It’s not merely what you’re doing either, but also who you’re doing it with – after all, from leisure rides to competitive clubs it’s rare that cycling is a truly individual pursuit. Indeed, plenty of people (whether they’ll admit it or not) will value the chats in the peloton and the coffee and cakes at a mid-ride pit-stop as being even more important than the time in the saddle!
When so many experts point towards an unwillingness to talk as being a driving factor in the rise of anxiety and depression, particularly in the male population, it figures that getting involved in a group of like-minded souls can be just the sort of support network needed when things get tough.
Perhaps it’s with all of that in mind that an important link between mental health and cycling has been forged by a number of organisations and charitable endeavours here in Ireland. Cycle Against Suicide is amongst the most prominent of these, aiming to raise awareness and break the stigma around a scourge that regularly takes more than 300 lives – most of them male – every year.
And while the annual events to mark World Suicide Prevention Day took place on September 10th, you never have to look far to see projects which look to use cycling as a tool to create an improvement in our collective efforts to improve mental health; whether it’s Ardmac’s annual Cycle for Hope in aid of Pieta House, or the incredible feats taken on by Cormac Ryan in the name of his Cycle for Life organisation, pedal pushers across the country are increasingly recognising the importance of getting behind the cause.
Hear more about Cormac’s inspiring story in our podcast series, Defying The Odds.