While there are many reasons why you might want to start cycling, such as improving your health and boosting your general fitness, don’t overlook the mental health benefits. Research shows that one in three cyclists find that cycling reduces their stress levels.
According to statistics from The International Stress Management Association, stress accounts for 37% of all work-related cases of ill health. Fortunately, there may be a simple solution.
A recent survey by Cycleplan, which aimed to understand the health benefits people experienced after taking up cycling, discovered that one in three cyclists noticed that cycling made them less stressed and more relaxed. Three-quarters of the respondents also said cycling improved their mental health as a whole, with 8% even saying it helped with depression or anxiety.
How Does Cycling Reduce Our Stress?
So, what is it about cycling that makes it such a good stress buster? Well, there are a number of factors that contribute to cycling’s feel-good factor. The first is that the alone time allows us to reflect and digest our stresses. As Andy Sexton, Director of Bike Science Ltd. explains, it sometimes even gives us the time to think of a solution to our problems:
“It gets you out in the fresh air, gives you time to decompress and relax. It can help you think through problems and the space cycling gives you helps you find the solutions.”
Another reason for cycling’s mood boosting properties could be the distraction it provides. Just eleven years after the first modern bicycle was rolled onto the road in 1885, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wrote in an article for Scientific American:
‘When the spirits are low, when the day appears dark, when work becomes monotonous, when hope hardly seems worth having, just mount a bicycle and go out for a spin down the road, without thought of anything but the ride you are taking.’
What he was referring to is what we now know as mindfulness: being completely present, entirely engaged with what you’re currently doing and where you are at that moment in time. Cycling is great for promoting this – you don’t have to think about anything apart from keeping the pedals turning, steering your bike, and taking in the scenery. This means your brain can have a welcome break from brooding thoughts that, unfortunately, come with modern life.
The Science Behind the Stress Busting Effects of Cycling
While these factors certainly help us stay more relaxed, there is some science behind the stress-reducing effects of cycling too. Cortisol is the body’s stress hormone, and having elevated levels of it as a result of a stressful modern lifestyle can increase your risk of developing depression, obesity, insomnia, heart disease, and digestive problems.
The good news is that exercise has been shown to decrease the level of cortisol in your bloodstream, leading to a reduction of the symptoms of stress. Although more research is needed, findings have pointed towards aerobic exercise such as cycling as having the greatest effect on reducing cortisol levels.
What Stressful Situations Can Cycling Help With?
Some life stresses are worse than others. Some can be solved with a hot bath and a hot cup of tea, but others need more attention. So how powerful can pedaling be in helping us keep life’s pressures at bay?
Paul Andrew has been cycling for over 30 years and has found cycling’s effect on his stress to be invaluable:
“It’s managed my stress throughout my adult life. Death of family members, stressful employment, the breakdown of personal relationships … it’s got me through a lot of difficult times.”
Work is one of the leading causes of our stress and, like Paul, many cyclists find taking to the road on two wheels does the world of good for those difficult work circumstances. Even Lizzie Deignan, Olympic Road Race silver medalist, who cycles for a living, swears by cycling as a form of therapy:
“Mental well-being is the most important cycling benefit for me. I rely on cycling and exercise to relieve any anxiety or stress that I may have built up.”
For the mental health benefits of cycling alone, riding a bike seems like a no-brainer. However, knowing exercise does you good is one thing, actually getting around to it is another. However, that’s the beauty of bike commuting … often our morning ride is the best part of our day – it’s getting off the bike and addressing the day’s to-do list that requires actual willpower!
To find out more about the mental and physical health benefits of cycling, visit Cycleplan’s interactive site The Health Benefits of Cycling.
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