As a cyclist, you are keenly aware of how wonderful the sport is for your body. You feel great afterward, and you can measure how the regularity of your favourite activity boosts your strength. But, there’s more to it. With recent studies, we see that cycling is not only just good for your physical health: cycling improves mental health and emotional well-being. And here’s why.
Why Cycling Improves Mental Health
Scientists studying the psychological effects of cycling will ask volunteers cycle outdoors for a set time or indoors on a stationary bike. And their findings on mental health have been quite wowing in four areas of mental health.
White matter of the brain is found beneath the brain's surface, and its function is to connect the different regions of the brain. A breakdown in the white matter can slow thinking and lead to cognitive deficits, so it's a good thing that some of the latest research shows that biking on a regular basis increases the integrity of white matter fiber tracts in the brain.
Brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) is a protein in the brain that helps maintain and create neurons, and also contributes to ward off neurological diseases like Alzheimer's and Parkinson's. While it has been long established that regular physical activity helps produce BDNF, a recent study showed that after three months of regular pedalling on a stationary bike, BDNF levels were significantly higher.
Memory and Reasoning
Physical exercise increases blood flow to the brain, bringing with it a steady stream of oxygen and nutrients, so it's no surprise that this leads to higher brain functioning in both memory and reasoning. One small study tested this theory with biking and involved healthy, young men who pedalled a stationary bike at moderate intensity for 30 minutes. They completed a series of cognitive tests before and after biking, but all of the men scored higher on memory, reasoning, and planning – and finished the tests faster – after they had completed their biking.
Relaxation and Well-Being
Scientific studies prove again and again that physical activity leads to greater relaxation and a sense of well-being. One study focused on volunteers who were being treated with antidepressants, and after pedalling a stationary bike for just 15 minutes, their levels of the stress hormone, cortisol, declined significantly. Outdoor cycling can further enhance these benefits since it's also been proven that spending time in nature alone can reduce stress and relieve symptoms of depression and anxiety. There’s also evidence that enjoying a form of “green exercise” like cycling can boost enjoyment and motivation. Cycling increases mental health, emotional well-being, and brain functioning – which are just a few excellent reasons to hit the road more frequently. Be prepared on the road with our recent bike safety tips!