Spring is here with longer days and a little bit more sun in the sky. So with rising fuel and public transport prices, it seems like a really good time to start cycling more. If you aren’t quite convinced just yet, I wanted to share with you just some of the physical and mental wellbeing benefits I get from cycling.
1. Cardiovascular Fitness
Perhaps the most obvious to start, but cycling is good for your physical health. Increasing your heart rate daily can lead to long term improvements in fitness, and help prevent diseases such as diabetes.
Cycling is also a low impact sport so can protect your joints while still providing fitness benefits. There is a reason that elite cycling athletes are considered to be some of the fittest sports people as cycling is such a good form of exercise.
Feeling fitter may help improve your mental wellbeing as well.
2. Muscle Strength
One of the main areas which cycling can improve is leg strength. The continued cyclic action while pedalling builds muscle strength endurance and muscle bulk, especially in your quadriceps and calf muscles. You will find even greater improvements if you regularly have to tackle hills – not a problem around our Ride On base in Exeter!
3. Happy Hormones
Another wellbeing benefit of cycling (and exercise in general) is the release of endorphins and increased levels of serotonin. Both of these “happy hormones” have been shown to reduce stress and anxiety, and increase feelings of happiness and overall wellbeing.
Cycling can also make you sleep better so you’ll find you have more energy the next day despite doing more exercise.
4. Fresh Air
One of the top reasons why I enjoy cycling so much and why it makes me feel so good is that I love being outside and feeling that fresh air rush past. It never fails to make me feel energised.
A key barrier which may stop people from cycling is our wonderfully unpredictable British weather, but I personally love cycling in the rain. If you have good waterproof clothing and especially if you don’t have too far to go, then it makes the shower and cup of tea at the other end even more deserved.
5. Clear Your Head
For me, cycling is a form of mindfulness. When I’m outside on my bike, I feel I have to be in the present to focus on cycling and my surroundings. It is easier to notice the little things while on a bike compared to being in a vehicle. There are no barriers between you and the environment around you, such as the sounds, smells, and sights which you would otherwise miss.
You also don’t need to stick to roads, and can head off the beaten track. Being closer to your natural environment and having an appreciation for weather, nature, and a slightly slower pace of life can all contribute to greater wellbeing.
I also find giving my bike a clean or doing some basic maintenance on a sunny weekend afternoon boosts my mood and makes me switch off from other anxieties on my mind.
6. Switch Off
Similar to the above point, but I also feel that whenever I’ve been using my bike to regularly commute to and from work, university or school, then the process of cycling has been a great way to get my brain to switch off after a tough day. I find that my mind can wander without dwelling too much on negative thoughts and I even find I can think things through which may be bothering me and put them to one side before I get home and relax. I arrive home in a much better mood and mental state compared to if I drive or take public transport.
7. Challenge Yourself
Cycling might be scary to begin with. Your chosen route might involve a massive hill, a busy road, or you may have a lack of confidence in cycling in general. If you can overcome your fears however, then practice makes perfect.
I’ve found that after a few times of being anxious or having to push my bike up the hill, I quickly get used to a new route or environment. Especially if you do it regularly, it can quickly become second nature. The feeling of overcoming a challenge or improving at a skill will make you feel even better! It can boost your self esteem especially when combined with the physical benefits which will make you feel fitter and healthier.
8. Feelings of Success
Cycling will make you feel accomplished. If you’ve had a long day at work and you really don’t feel like having to cycle home in the dark, but you do anyway and even make it up the slight hill on the final stretch without stopping, then that feeling of accomplishment and success is such a positive feeling to help your overall wellbeing. You are in control of where you go and how fast you get there.
Would you rather be stuck in bad traffic on your way home, miss a train and have to wait for the next one, or be totally under your own steam?
I used to race the bus which my friends took when I was at university and fairly often beat it on my bike at rush hour. Additionally, learning to look after your bike with some simple bicycle maintenance can also increase that feeling of being in control and accomplishment which can improve wellbeing.
9. Connect with Others
Cycling is a great way to meet people and connect through this shared activity. There are lots of good cycling groups around for all levels. You can chat while you cycle and there is almost always coffee and cake involved.
If you are shy or lack confidence, having that shared activity is something to talk about, and you can also be part of the cycling group but without needing to talk to people or be the centre of attention at any point. Talking to someone while having to focus on something else can be easier than just talking face to face.
10. Treat Yourself
Cycling saves money.
When you compare the cost of cycling with the rising costs of both fuel and public transport, it seems to be a no-brainer if it is possible to cycle places you need to go instead. Once you have a bicycle, helmet and possibly some lights then you only need to pay for servicing and any parts which need replacing every now and again. You can even learn to do this yourself with a simple bike maintenance course and save even more money while learning a new skill. You can also save paying for a gym membership by commuting by bicycle.
Reducing money worries is known to improve wellbeing. Or if you look at it another way, the money you save could go towards a holiday or other treat to improve your wellbeing.
If you are new to cycling or haven’t ridden in a while it can be daunting to start. There are many courses around which can help build confidence on a bike such as those run by Bikeability. It is important to ride safely, always wear a helmet, bright reflective clothes and get good lights if riding at night. All of these improve your confidence when cycling and make it an enjoyable experience which can undoubtedly improve your mental wellbeing.