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Cycling Your Way to Better Mental Health

November 29, 2021

In 2017, the Brooklyn-based Interfaith Medical Center started a biking initiative. The hospital’s employees and patients, who were afflicted with conditions like diabetes and high blood pressure, participated in the bike share program, which encouraged them to be active and seek alternative forms of transportation.

LaRay Brown, Interfaith’s CEO, stated that this initiative is to not only promote the physical wellness of their community, but also their mental health. Biking is indeed an activity that can boost mental wellness on top of its physical health benefits, and we can expect community health leaders like Interfaith Medical Center to promote it. This is especially true as non-clinical roles are being created to specialize in mental health, and more people are studying to work in these roles at higher education levels. Professionals who took healthcare studies are now working in community health and health education, and are able to provide good advice to the people in their care. With a specialization in mental health as part of their training, their job is to promote effective strategies, such as bike riding, for community members so they can care for their mental and emotional well-being.

Two women riding Pedego e-bikes in a park.

But what’s all the fuss about biking and how can it help your mental health? Below, we break down the wonders it can do for your mind:

It helps you sleep better

If you have problems sleeping, regular cycling can help sync your circadian rhythm, which covers the sleep-wake cycle. This is because cycling ensures you get more exposure to sunlight, which makes you more alert, awake, and active. Then when it gets dark, your body starts to produce melatonin, a hormone that promotes sleep and also transmits signals that will help you stay asleep throughout the night.

A lesser-known influence of the circadian rhythm is how it affects a person’s mental health, and a good rhythm can reduce the risk of conditions like depression and bipolar disorder. Cycling also reduces the levels of cortisol. This stress hormone can prevent you from getting regenerative, deep sleep — so lowering cortisol levels can counter sleep deprivation.

It improves memory

Mental illness, particularly depression, can cause memory problems like forgetfulness and confusion. Fortunately, high-intensity exercises have been found to boost memory by firing up the parts of the brain associated with memory. Exercises, like high-intensity cycling, can thus help maintain adequate blood flow to the brain and improve overall cognitive activity.

It encourages meditation

You may think of meditation as something that happens in yoga when everything is still in a quiet environment. However, meditation can also happen when you’re “in flow.” Medium describes this as simply being deeply engaged in a task. When you ride a bike, you can experience a merging of action and awareness where you have a sense of being completely in control of your actions. This can be freeing, and will help push anxious thoughts away since you’re just enjoying the moment.

It helps you feel good

Cycling, and exercising in general, is also a form of self-love. After all, taking care of your body and being in good shape will make you feel good. But aside from that, regular cyclists experience what’s called a “cycling high” through the release of endorphins. Because of this natural high, endorphins also help push you beyond your comfort levels. This will help increase your cycling distances over time.

Additionally, cycling releases other happy hormones, namely dopamine and serotonin. Dopamine is known as the feel-good hormone and is connected to the brain’s reward system. Meanwhile, serotonin regulates your mood and emotions. Cycling increases your heart rate, which can quicken the distribution of these hormones.

The easiest way to reap the benefits of cycling, whether physical or mental, is to simply live in the moment and have fun. With people looking for various ways to improve their mental state, they should know that cycling is a great way to do so. Do take advantage of your community’s cycling initiatives or get your own bike to invest in your health.

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Written by Jenzen Rose