A few weeks ago - on a particularly testing day - I came straight in from work, got changed, hopped on my bike and went out for a seventeen-mile ride. It wasn’t particularly long or challenging, but that wasn’t my goal. I was doing it to calm my mind. I spent two hours cycling around the local area - completely flat - thinking about nothing else. I came home and I felt refreshed.
I can completely relate to the power of cycling for mental health as well as physical. Cycling can’t necessarily cure a deep rooted mental health issue but the habit of outdoor cycling is about investing in mental health and helping build resilience. It gives me time away from 24/7 digital communications and a chance to switch off. Cycling feels like freedom, it’s a chance to be fully present, concentrate on surroundings and the environment. It feels exhilarating, uplifting and joyful. It combines exercise, fresh air and time away from the busy-ness of life. It’s my go to activity at times of stress, worry or if I ever feel overwhelmed. I literally can’t stop smiling when I am on my bike and perhaps that’s something to do with the childlike pleasure we take in riding, much like fairground rides and merry-go-rounds.
I am not the world’s most obvious cyclist. In fact, until a couple of years ago, cycling was a distant memory to me, something relegated to childhood memories and “other people’s lives”. But I had stressful times and I didn’t feel at my best so I decided to take an action. When you go through difficult periods of your life, you sometimes feel lost at sea, and exercise is the sort of raft you can cling onto in the hope of stability and peace. It provides a habit, and a sense of routine that can help you to feel more grounded when everything else appears uncertain.
It’s through this process, through cycling long distances, that I have learned the value of defying the negative thoughts that float across your mind, threatening to derail my good intentions and sense of peace. Every single time I embark on a new challenge, my brain begins its usual routine of trying to come up with reasons why I shouldn’t put myself through something so difficult. But by regularly proving my negative inner voice wrong, I have become much better at quashing unhelpful thoughts when they pop up in other areas of my life: at work, in my personal relationships or in the middle of the night when anxiety comes knocking. It’s not a quick fix, but rather a way of retraining myself to push past negativity and build my confidence.
The other day I took my Raleigh Strada 2 for a ride around the local area. The sun was shining, the sky was blue and I was pedalling my way towards happiness. It only took me steady 15 miles to boost my energy and get that “feel good” mood. I finished the ride with a swim in the river and amazing pub lunch. Perfect Sunday!
Cycling and exercise in general is like fertilizer to my brain. It just gives that positive spin. Of course, there’s a lot more to mental fitness than just improving your smarts. There is plenty of science that back the idea that a good ride can also have emotional benefits. It can elevate your mood, relieve anxiety, increase stress resistance, and even banish those blues. But don’t take my or scientist word for it. Do your own experiment. Grab a bike, slap on a helmet and go for a spin around your local park or down a country trail. Then leave a comment here to let me know what you discover.