Cycling and Mental Health: Pedalling Towards Happiness

“When I see an adult on a bicycle, I no longer despair for the future mental health of the human race.”

This is a beloved quote, attributed to English author H.G. Wells across newspaper articles and bicycle blogs. Wells, who lived in England in the late 19th century (a period of the bicycle craze) was a cycling enthusiast and he weaved this passion for bicycles into his literary work. It is not certain, however, whether these words are rightfully attributed to him, because no written source can be found. It’s a beautiful quote nonetheless, and whoever had said it was a person of great insight, because it does ring true. Cycling may not be a cure to all ailments of the modern world, but it is an activity that can help each individual on their quest for balance, health, and happiness. Here are the ways cycling contributes to mental health, and why it’s increasingly popular.

A healthy mind in a healthy body

Cycling is an aerobic exercise, so just like all forms of activity, it provides benefits for the brain as much as it does for the body. As your pulse speeds up, a higher rate of oxygen is transferred to your brain. This results in more nutrients being created and absorbed by the grey matter, helping your brain work better. With regular exercise, you have this constant process of “fertilization” for your mind, making you more focused and concentrated on daily tasks. Not to mention, physical exercise helps your body produce endorphins, thus enhancing a positive mood.

The great thing about cycling that puts it at an advantage when compared to other forms of aerobic exercise is that it is low-impact, so it’s a great choice for someone with weak joints or someone who is just starting to lead a more active lifestyle. And that’s not all.

De-stressing with rhythmic movement

We’re on a constant search of ways to alleviate stress from our mostly chaotic lifestyles, from decluttering our homes to learning to meditate. Cycling is, in fact, a form of meditation. The repetitive rhythmic movement of pedalling results in focus, singling out your mind and blocking out all thoughts that bring on anxiety. The rhythmic activity presents a great opportunity to exercise mindfulness, maintain deep rhythmic breaths, and focus on all the positive aspects of the present moment.

Avoiding traffic stress

This is possibly the biggest advantage of cycling yet, and definitely a reason why it is growing in popularity. Cycling to work daily doesn’t just help you avoid the stress of traffic, but it is also the most frugal and eco-friendly option. Cheap bikes will get you anywhere and they will last for years with very little money needed to spend on maintenance, zero gas emissions, and there will be no frustration behind the wheel or squeezing with strangers in jam-packed public transportation. An active commute is also a great way to add exercise into your daily schedule. It helps you prepare for the day on your morning ride, shaking up your body and your mind, and on the way back, it helps you decompress. Plus, you can always stop on the way and enjoy a beautiful sight.  

Nature getaway

Walking can’t get you as far, and driving is far less meditative or pleasant. But a bicycle can get you away from the hustle and bustle and into green spaces you have yet to explore. We all know that we need more air, sunshine, and greenery for our mental health. A day spent outside on your bicycle will leave you happy, refreshed, and ready to fall asleep like a baby at night. So if you haven’t done it before, pencil in a picnic at a park for this weekend and ride to your destination on your bicycle. It’s a wonderful way to spend quality time with your family or friends.

The greatest thing about cycling is that it is so approachable and there are many opportunities to pedal every day – whether it’s your daily commute, leisurely cycling before dinner, or a planned exercise program. As you do it repeatedly, its benefits on mental health show much faster. You’ll find that you sleep better every night (which is a plus that can’t be overstated), as well as an overall confidence boost that comes with regular physical activity. It’s a form of exercise that just becomes a hobby so effortlessly, as transportation becomes an almost meditative process and physical exercise doesn’t feel like a strain at all. H.G. Wells might not have said anything about cycling and the future mental health of the human race, but he did say this:

“Cycle tracks will abound in Utopia, sometimes following beside the great high roads, but oftener taking their own more agreeable line amidst woods and crops and pastures…”

It’s a wonderful sight to envision, and thankfully, one that we can actually enjoy in the modern day.

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