As today marks the dreaded Blue Monday for the UK, the team at Merlin Cycles has put together a list of seven ways cycling can positively affect your mental health. From boosting your creative thinking to aiding in better sleep, get ready to cycle your way to better well-being.
With 1 in 4 people likely to experience some form of mental health problem in their lifetime, improving your physical activity is a great place to start when it comes to improving your overall mental well-being. John Moss, founder of Merlin Cycles, explains: “My love for cycling has been one of the biggest boons to my mental health throughout my life, and the same goes for the broader cycling community. Whether it’s a simple bike ride with friends or I’m aiming for a new personal best, getting out and seeing the country immensely helps my mental health.”
1. Reduces stress and anxiety
Stress, depression, and anxiety are all positively affected by exercise. Cycling releases endorphins, also known as the “feel-good hormone”, that can aid in helping your mind and body relax and feel happier. This in turn boosts your mood, helps reduce feelings of anxiety, and promotes a more positive mental attitude.
When you’re stressed, your heart will beat faster, which encourages shallow, fast breathing and heightens the risk of panic attacks and the feeling of being overwhelmed. Cycling forces you to take regular, deep breaths to expel carbon dioxide in your lungs and helps to regulate your breathing. Both of these key methods help to alleviate stress and aid you in feeling more relaxed.
2. Boosts creative thinking
Cycling regularly not only promotes logical thought but can also increase your creative thinking. Outdoor exercise can have a greater impact on the creative mind due to its natural environment, away from technology and other distractions.
Basking in the fresh air as you cycle also has a stimulating effect on our brains. The regular, uniform movement of cycling helps to stabilise both physical and mental functions, specifically “convergent” thinking (the ability to come up with solutions to problems) and “divergent” thinking (which helps to conceive new ideas).
Isolation damages our mental health over time, so it’s a relief that cycling can be highly social. Whether you’re riding with friends or family or joining a cycling club, connecting with others and expanding your friendship circle with like-minded people can have a great impact on your mental health.
If you exercise with people who are on the same fitness level as you, you’re more likely to encourage each other and push yourselves harder.
Cycling with a group also carries loads of benefits, like increased motivation, inspiration, and commitment to carry on.
4. Better sleep
Poor sleep is a recipe for mental illness. Thankfully, cycling can help you switch off when your head hits the pillow.
Moderate-to-vigorous cycling, which can be anything from a light cycle in the park to a competitive race with friends, can increase sleeping quality. Reducing the time it takes to fall asleep, as well as decreasing the amount of time you lie awake, can improve your physical functions.
Regular riding helps to synchronise your circadian rhythm, which can reduce your stress hormones and, in turn, make you calmer, which helps you slip into a deeper sleep. Similarly, cycling can decrease the risk of weight gain, which can directly cause sleep-related issues like obstructive sleep apnea (OSA).
5. Increased self-confidence
Lacking a little self-esteem? There are all kinds of ways to cultivate self-confidence, but jumping on your bike has been shown to be increasingly effective. Whether it’s riding up a tough hill or beating your PB, the rhythmic nature of pedalling helps the brain to focus and increases blood flow, which leads to a release of serotonin, which is known to boost moods and increase self-confidence.
In the long term, regular physical exercise can improve confidence by making us feel good about our abilities and physique, and weight loss is a bonus, too. 30 minutes of exercise a day is said to reduce the risk of diseases, increase bone density, and boost your immune system.
6. Improves concentration and memory
Those who feel they underperform because they can’t focus or forget things may feel worse about themselves over time, which can be damaging to their mental health.
Besides improving memory, cycling can help you improve your concentration and stay on task.
Physical activity causes blood flow to the brain, which promotes cell growth and encourages neurons to work, partially in the hippocampus, which is critical for learning.
Similarly to the way our brains can grow muscles, cycling can help grow our brains. An increase in blood flow to the brain brings in more oxygen and nutrients that can improve its performance and stimulate memory. Cycling also increases the production of proteins that are used to create new brain cells and helps to improve communication between the different regions of the brain.
7. Live longer
Research has shown over the years that exercise can actually improve your life expectancy. According to a study conducted by Merlin Cycles, cities with higher cyclist rates are actually happier as residents live longer on average.
Cycling, and exercise in general, lowers the risk of developing age-related diseases like Alzheimer’s disease, cardiovascular issues, and hypertension. So, it’s easier to feel better about your long-term prospects knowing that you’ve got more life to live and to do the things you want.
Not only will you gain a sense of accomplishment once you’ve finished an intense cycle, but you’ll feel more content with life knowing you may have set the clock back by a few years.