Get out on your bike to feel good
Cycling is a great physical workout, but it can also be incredibly helpful for maintaining good mental health too. Here’s how:
When you’re deep in the daily hustle, fitting in a cycle ride might seem like the last thing you have time for. Thanks to the endless email chains and back-to-back meetings, sometimes you’re left feeling like you can barely squeeze in a bathroom break. But when life is super hectic, getting out on your bike regularly can reduce that sense of being overwhelmed, and maybe even make everything feel a little rosier. Everyone knows exercise keeps you in great physical shape, but research shows when you exercise outdoors, as with cycling, it provides significant mental health benefits, boosting mood and self-esteem, and bringing greater feelings of revitalisation. Regular cyclists champion the sport’s meditative qualities. Focusing on the simple act of pedalling down the road or track ahead, thinking of nothing more than whatever action you need to perform next, be that brake for a traffic light, glide round a corner, or smile at a cyclist passing in the other direction, helps you get into a flow state, where worries and to-do lists disappear and you exist only in the now.
Riding to reset, cycling to destress
Riding frequently, especially when you have a lot on at work, can help you destress, reset and treat any tricky situations that come your way with a fresh perspective. Emma Bentley, who rides with bike collective, The 5th Floor, while also working a full-time job, finds cycling to be an incredibly helpful resetting tool.
It grounds me, and gives me mental resilience,” she says. “Every time I go out on my bike, it gives me a healthy distance from all those day to day things that feel really important at the time but are sometimes just a distraction. It’s going to sound cheesy but there isn’t anything else that brings me that kind of joy on a regular basis; cycling makes me feel free.
To reap these mental health gains and get that sense of freedom, you don’t need to be going full pelt in contest mode, even the most mellow riding can clear your head and make you feel good. “A lot of people talk about endorphins, and they are amazing, but they're associated with intensity and it's not all about riding hard,” says Emma. “Going out for an hour-long cruise can be just as valuable for your head."
Feeling good in nature
Cycling gets you outside and into nature, away from your flat or climate-controlled office, which brings a host of extra mental health benefits with it. Being in nature and green spaces calms us, clears our minds of clutter and helps us tune into our natural surroundings; it makes us feel alive.
“It’s hard to ride bikes and not develop a deeper respect and interest in nature because you see so much that you’d never witness when driving,” says Emma. “Be that birds of prey or little voles, or all these different types of landscape. You become really into the weather, watching the clouds and constantly shifting skies. You get so much more bang for your buck outside than you would if you were training inside.”
“I can’t put my finger on why I enjoy it so much, but I know when I’m doing it, it makes me so happy in the moment,” she says. “It makes me think: ‘Why do I not get up at 5am every day and do this!?’”
Overcoming the limits of willpower
But Emma doesn’t wake up early every morning to fit in a cycle before work. And like everyone she struggles with motivation from time to time especially in winter. There are however some neat psychological tricks you can use to keep yourself cycling regularly rather than relying on raw willpower alone, which can be difficult to muster, especially when the snooze button is so alluring.
The first is to always schedule your rides in advance. Ideally mark it up in your calendar and get your bike kit ready the night before, as you’re much less likely to pull out once a good plan with visual cues is in place and you’ve pictured yourself going ahead with it.
Also arrange as many rides as possible with other people. These could be friends or local cycling groups or meet ups you can easily find through social media. “If you say to someone you’re going to meet them and they’re getting up early as well, it takes any sense of choice or motivation away. And getting out with other people also helps remind you why you love it so much. Even a hard ride with other people is so much easier than a hard ride on your own,” says Emma.
We can all benefit by getting out on our bikes more. For the outdoor exercise of course, but just as importantly for the headspace and morale boost it gives us; the soulful sanctuary it provides from our day to day. Maintaining good mental health in a hectic world is a challenge but riding your bike regularly can help. So, why not saddle up, take hold of your handlebars and look forward to losing yourself in a whir of pedal strokes as you glide gently along the road ahead.