Of all the physical activities, cycling is one of the most rewarding, boosting both physical and mental health and even elevating happiness
The connection between mental health and physical activity is undeniable.
A study on this connection, conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention from 2011 to 2015 with over a million adult participants, showed that people who exercised experienced improvement of their mental health compared to those who didn’t. Given our increasingly sedentary lifestyle in modern society, this fact is especially important since too much time indoors without a daily dose of physical activity can take a toll on a person’s mood.
If you are looking for a particularly beneficial exercise, I suggest you try cycling — an easy activity to fit into your daily schedule since it can conveniently take you from one place to another. Whether you are bike riding in the city or the countryside, you will also experience a boost of happiness almost instantly.
Still need convincing to try this bipedal activity? Here are 11 reasons why cycling improves your overall well-being:
1. Helps You Sleep Better
Cycling is a great activity to help you realign your body clock and improve your sleep. This has to do with your circadian rhythm which is one of the reasons why we feel sleepy when the night falls. Spending time in the sun helps you reset your internal clock by slowing down the production of melatonin — the sleep hormone. You will get the best effects if you ride your bike from 6 AM to 8.30 AM, but being exposed to natural light at any time can be beneficial to your sleep as well.
Another positive effect of cycling on your sleep pattern is that it reduces the production of cortisol — the stress hormone. Cortisol may be responsible for blocking deep sleep which is essential for the mind to reset and regenerate. Additionally, cycling also boosts the production of serotonin that promotes sleep so spending half an hour on your bike before going to bed may help you fall asleep.
2. Keeps Depression Under Control
Bike riding can be a very effective way to lift your spirits and chase away some of your demons. While cycling, you are visually distracting yourself from dark thoughts and worries. Seeing something interesting or beautiful can inspire you to concentrate on the positive aspects of your life and chase away signs of depression. Feeling breeze in your hair and having a road in front of you can make you feel free and liberated. Physical activity is known to promote the production of endorphins in the body — hormones that can reduce pain and make you feel euphoric. This can help you see life more positively and give you a push of energy to move forward. Another plus side of cycling is that it can help you manage weight and your overall health, two things that when impaired can lead to depression.
3. Reduces Anxiety
Anxiety is fairly common across all populations. If left untreated, it can have numerous consequences for both physical and mental health. According to statistics, 40 million adults in the US suffer from this condition. The good news is that anxiety is treatable and sometimes you don’t even need medicines to do it. Cycling can help you divert your mind from the things that bother you and help you relieve the muscle tension you experience due to anxiety. Since your heart rate will go up, your body will produce anti-anxiety chemicals, like brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) and endocannabinoids. Moreover, since cycling will engage part of your brain that is responsible for the reaction, you will be able to distinguish real from imaginary threats.
4. Minimizes Stress
Stress is a silent enemy, sneaking up on you and affecting your body and behavior. Some stress is okay as long as it challenges you to take positive actions in your life. However, if you allow stress to overrun you, your health and wellbeing may be in jeopardy. Conditions like heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and cancer can all be contributed to stress and the lifestyle originating from it. Cycling is a great stress reliever because of all the feel-good chemicals and mindfulness it creates. If you have a big day at work that makes you anxious, riding a bike to your office can help you eliminate tension and calm your nerves while filling you up with optimism.
5. Boosts Self-Esteem
Cycling is not easy. You have to possess certain physical readiness to be able to ride a bike, especially if you replace concrete surfaces in the city with dirt roads in nature. This is actually not a bad thing and can help you improve your mental health at the same time as increasing your endurance. Consider bike riding as a series of challenges you need to conquer to get better. Every time you successfully reach a goal, you will feel proud of yourself which helps to build your self-esteem. Once you learn that with dedication and patience you can improve yourself, you will feel empowered to take the same steps in other parts of your life.
6. Preserves Brain Function
Based on a study review from Denmark, physical activity can improve your brain health by affecting BDNF. This protein is responsible for neuron health, as well as for the creation of new ones inside your brain. Because of this, cycling may be a fine way to decrease the risks of neurological diseases, like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s. Besides BDNF, bike riding will increase your circulation, helping more oxygen and nutrients to reach your brain. It’s believed that this is why people think better when riding a bike or partaking in any other form of exercise. Research on the connection between moderate aerobic exercise and cognitive functions showed improved planning and reasoning after physical activity. So, if you have something to solve, hopping on your bike may give you all the answers you need.
7. Enhances Creative Thinking
Nature plays an important role in creativity and coming up with new ideas. That’s why riding a mountain bike among the trees and meadows is a perfect way to boost your creative thinking and find a new direction to express yourself. Physical activity paired with beautiful sights of nature can serve as a spark that will ignite your mind to come up with new concepts and solutions. A lot of this can be attributed to the color green which inspires growth, peace, and new thought patterns to emerge. Green is also the color of balance which can help your brain with the decision-making process. If you are facing a challenging task or are looking for inspiring moments, cycling in a green space allows nature to nurture your creativity.
8. Enriches Your Social Life
Bike riding doesn’t have to be a solo endeavor; you can join a group of bike riders and participate in cycling as a group activity. While riding alone has its benefits, you can also enjoy many wonderful effects of sharing this experience with other people. Improving your social life can improve your mental health by decreasing your stress and boosting your happiness. Being surrounded with people can also help you see different perspectives on things and teach you how to be more open to the world. When it comes to bringing people closer together, cycling may be an ideal physical activity to share with your friends and family.
9. Improves Productivity
Exercising in the morning before work is a proven strategy to increase your productivity and ability to focus on tasks. However, if you are not much of a morning person, this may not be so easy to have first thing after you open your eyes. But by riding your bike to work, you will increase your heart rate and wake yourself up while making you more aware of your surroundings. This will also increase your attention span which is quite handy if you have meetings at the beginning of your day.
10. Gives You Control
It’s important to have control in certain parts of your life to gain a sense of independence and maturity. While there are things out of your dominion, cycling allows is not one of them. Since a bicycle is a non-motorized vehicle, you can use it to drive yourself to any destination you want. This allows you to manage your schedule the way you see fit and stop being dependent on others and circumstances. Bike riding can also help you lose weight and give you back reign over your body.
11. Makes You Happier
There are many reasons why cycling can make you happy. From a biochemical standpoint, it stimulates your body to produce dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin. These three neurotransmitters are responsible for mood, satisfaction, and pleasure, so increasing their levels can make you happier. Psychologically, bike riding allows you to spend time alone in your head which is a good way to build your self-awareness since the road to happiness starts by first figuring out yourself.
You may also enjoy reading Cycling Your Way to Good Physical, Emotional and Environmental Health, by Lena Hemsworth.