The mental health benefits of cycling

By Edward Pegram, business manager, Cycle to Work at Raleigh UK

All too often in this fast-paced modern world, it’s easy to forget the important things in our lives – our friends, our family and our health. If we all take one thing from this pandemic, it’s that time is precious, and we need to spend it wisely with the people that matter the most.

Over the last few weeks, cycling has increased significantly, both for individuals and families, who have been able to enjoy the quiet roads and time spent together exercising. For many, this time has been spent adapting to new ways of living, but for our key workers, it’s been spent saving lives and keeping the country running. Bike shops have played a pivotal role in this. Sales to the leisure market have been very positive due to the increased use of bikes for daily exercise. Repair and service businesses also seem to be strong, with many people choosing to repair their existing bikes.

From an environmental perspective, the pandemic has led to a huge reduction in pollution levels in our towns and cities, and as many businesses look to return employees to work, we anticipate that people will continue to opt for active forms of travel like walking and cycling, boosted by the Government’s investment in cycling infrastructure. The long-term health, wellbeing and environmental impact of this readjustment could help save money, make us a pro cycling nation, dramatically improve our air quality and make many of us more active.

According to a report by Cycling UK (2018), bicycles made up only 1% of mileage accumulated by all vehicle traffic. We could be looking at a shift to more dependency on sustainable modes of transport such as walking and cycling, particularly in our towns and cities. Both employers and individuals could reap the benefits of more active lifestyles.

Around 20 million adults in the UK are classed as physically inactive and globally, one in four adults are not active enough. The advised exercise can include a brisk walk or light cycle ride, which can have huge health benefits. Research by the British Heart Foundation outlined that physically active employees take 27% fewer sick days and are more engaged and more productive in the workplace. Inactivity costs the UK economy an estimated £7.4 billion each year.

The positive environmental, economic and health benefits of active travel are clear, but something that we rarely discuss are the mental health benefits of cycling. COVID-19 has emphasised the importance of being there for each other, through coming together as a community and offering support to those in need when many of us are away from loved ones, facing the strains and balancing lockdown life.

Cycling is a great endorphin booster and has many positive and powerful benefits for our mental health. As well as being a great stress reducer, cycling can help you regain some balance in your life. We’ve been actively promoting cycling to encourage people to make the most of their daily exercise to improve their wellbeing. The majority of us, at one time or another, have found ourselves overwhelmed, either by the complete change to our daily lives, or from the continuous stream of news during this time.

Hopping on your bike and embracing the open road can do wonders for your mental wellbeing and will help you feel a sense of freedom. When you’re cycling, you have to focus on balance, momentum and very little else. The sensations of the present moment leaves your mind with very little time or space for racing thoughts which might otherwise preoccupy you. By focusing on your emotions throughout the ride, it allows you to feel the tightness in your calves as you push up inclines and the breeze against your face as you descend, leaving you very little headspace to be preoccupied with anything else.

If going out is particularly anxiety-provoking at the moment, then cycling is a great place to start to help you venture back to the outdoors. Aerobic exercise can significantly reduce feelings of anxiety and help prevent those feelings from developing into panic attacks or anxiety disorders. If your anxiety is creating a barrier to getting outside on your bike, try starting with a tranquil route, such as local waterways or canals, where the serenity of nature provides a calm and relaxing environment.

Breaking free from the confines of our homes, exercise can provide you with a sense of self-control and satisfaction which in turn can make you feel more positive about yourself. Our sense of self may have taken a little dip during this time, and that is completely understandable. Many of us are embracing a more natural state, possibly far removed from our previous people-facing appearance, and finding what makes us feel like ourselves is extremely important.

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