At a time when it is so easy to feel disconnected to yourself and to Mother Nature, cycling is a healthy and easy way to improve both your physical and mental health.
We seem to have forgotten that humans are animals too. Advanced animals — animals with sentience, art, music, and space exploration — but animals, nonetheless. What were once monkeys jumping around trees that later became prehistoric people walking through the savannah, today boils down to us cooped up in an office for 40 hours per week (if we are lucky).
This isn’t to say that times were better before we had modern medicine, technology, better food, more stability, movies, TV shows, literature, travel, and almost anything we want. These are all wonderful things that our brains were quite literally incapable of imagining hundreds of thousands of years ago.
Yet, despite all these societal advances, we are still part of nature.
So, what does all this have to do with cycling? Well, we have lost our connection to nature, even though we are part of it. This type of disconnect has created many negative mental and physical side-effects. Fortunately, cycling is an easy, cheap, and simple way to reconnect to yourself and to nature.
In our millennia-old movement towards creating comfort and safety for ourselves as a species, we have buried and stifled our instincts towards movement. Ages ago when we needed to hunt and gather, we were always on our feet, trying to survive in the wild. Today, we get food and shelter by sitting all day. But we were built to move around.
Any exercise will help us achieve this; however, cycling stands out a bit because it allows us to move and burn calories. It also helps us be one with nature since we are not, in fact, protected from the elements. We can always just climb off our bicycles and touch a tree, sit down by the side of the road, or take a break and go cloud gazing. At the same time, a bicycle is a mechanical instrument, a type of transport solely based on human ingenuity. In itself, it contains the human need to create, construct, build, and make life easier and more efficient, while at the same time allowing us to move our bodies outdoors.
All of this philosophising about cycling can actually be translated into tangible benefits. Here are a few:
Help the Environment
Is there really anything that has such a potential to influence our health as much as the environment does? If the environment is in bad shape, if the nature that surrounds us is poisoned or toxic, what will happen to us? What will happen to the food we eat, the air we breathe, the water we drink?
This isn’t some kind of preachy notion that cycling will change the world and save the environment. But cycling is a small step, a drop in the ocean… and we all need to understand that if we are to save the environment, we need to get as many of those drops as possible.
Cycling can help the environment by minimizing our carbon footprints. It has a very low environmental impact compared to basically every other form of transportation.
A passenger using a car consumes 40 times more energy than a cyclist. For bus passengers, this number is at 34 times, while train passengers take up 27 times more energy than a person riding a bike. And this is just factoring in energy and fuel costs, not the materials needed to make and maintain a bicycle compared with the work and resources needed to make and maintain an average car. Using fewer resources and minimizing pollution leads to a healthier environment which then conversely helps create a healthier place to live with healthier food and air.
Increase Your Confidence and Emotional Health
The emotional and psychological benefits of cycling are numerous. First of all, exercise itself helps your brain secrete oxytocin and other feel-good hormones which improve your mood and your happiness levels while helping you calm down and actually feel joy.
Anyone who has felt the high of an intense workout session and the Zen-like calm that later ensues knows exactly what I’m talking about.
On another, perhaps somewhat superficial level, cycling will also make you look better since you will lose fat, gain some muscle, and shape up your legs and glutes. Furthermore, your skin will improve because sweating helps clear out your pores by flushing toxins from your body. The blood rushing through dilated blood vessels (caused by exercise) gives your skin a nice, healthy shine. This same dilation of blood vessels leads to more nutrients and oxygen being shipped to your skin, keeping it healthy and clear. All these changes can lead to increased confidence; if you look better, you will most likely also feel better.
Cycling also gives you a sense of accomplishment. Overcoming hardship, beating milestones, becoming better today than what you were last week all lead to a better mood, and stronger levels of confidence. As an added bonus, for those seeking to improve their cardiovascular health, cycling is more forgiving on the knees and ankle joints than running. Your lung capacity will improve, your cardiovascular system will improve, and overall, you’ll feel much better than usual.
Try an Active Meditation
Even if you’re riding around in the city, you are still outside in the outdoors. However, you will really get your nature fix if you get one of the right types of bicycles for off-road riding. You don’t have to opt for adrenaline-filled mountain biking (though that can be fun and exciting, too!). Simply being surrounded by trees, grass, and dirt can help build the connection to nature that we all want and need.
On another level, cycling has its meditative qualities. Riding for an hour or two can seem daunting, but the point is to find your rhythm by searching for that sweet spot between exertion and relaxation.
Once you hit it, you will feel as if you can ride for hours at a time as you almost become one with your bicycle.
When this happens, you will feel a sense of flow because you are in the zone. It’s a feeling like no other.
Cycling can also help you think and meditate. Getting lost in thought while exercising is a great multitasking activity, to put a productivity-obsessed spin on it. Keeping your blood pumping while surrounded by fresh air helps you to think more clearly because there is more blood and oxygen flowing to your brain. When you cycle, you have time to focus on your breathing. You might also find it easier to solve certain problems because some things make more sense after a good, long ride. This is both because you let out some steam and because you think more clearly due to the extra oxygen.
Reduce Your Stress and Sleep Better
Cycling also helps with stress. When you regularly exercise, your cortisol levels are getting lower. Cortisol is the stress hormone that causes premature aging, health issues, and while it is helpful in emergency situations, we don’t really need it. Cycling is a healthy outlet for stress and frustration because no matter what is going on, you can just go out and ride for an hour or two until you calm down and release whatever was bothering you.
Cycling also helps you to sleep better. Research has shown that regular physical activity makes it easier to fall asleep, and the quality of said sleep will be much higher. The lower stress that comes from exercising regularly, combined with the full physical fatigue you feel after a workout, will result in a better night’s sleep — which in turn will help your body to rest and recover.
There you have it: A quick treatise on why cycling is so fantastic! For the sake of your health and our environment, go grab your bike and take a ride. Your body and soul will thank you.
You may also enjoy reading Forest Bathing: How Immersing in Nature Can Help You Reconnect by Tess Dinapoli