With 1 in 4 of us likely to experience issues with our mental health, can we rely on cycling as a remedy to life’s uphill challenges?
Our individual and collective mental health is more important than ever. Post-pandemic, amidst climate crisis and living with the intricacies of our unique struggles, studies show 1 in 4 of us struggle with our mental health every year in the UK. One of the more common suggestions when it comes to improving our mental health is exercise. We were interested to investigate the correlation between mental health and cycling, to see whether it really does get our wheels turning!
So, why exercise? Exercise releases serotonin (the feel-good hormone) and reduces cortisol (the stress hormone), giving us an energy boost and making us feel better within ourselves. This, coupled with the distraction caused by focusing on exercise, contributes to the easing of anxiety, intrusive thoughts, and overall stress management. Cycling is a low-impact exercise, that allows us to exercise for longer periods without over-exerting ourselves. It is also unique given it can be done recreationally, as a mode of sustainable transport, independently or in a group setting!
Cycling could also be part of the remedy to our collective experiences with ‘eco-anxiety’. ‘Eco-anxiety’ is a term coined by psychologists to give a name to feelings of guilt, helplessness, and fear for the future amidst the uncertainties of climate change. Data shows that nearly two-thirds of 16–25-year-olds across ten countries are “very or extremely worried” about climate change. These individual feelings anchored to stress can also lead to increased issues with social cohesion, which determines “the strength of relationships and the sense of solidarity among members of a community”. A commitment to sustainable mobility is cited as one of the methods to ease ‘eco-anxiety’, as by putting extra care into ourselves, our health, and our responsibility towards the planet we can give new life to the fight against climate change.
So, naturally, we wanted to put these theories to the test in our community. And, who better to ask than our very own HumanForest riders?? It was refreshing to discover that out of nearly 700 people who responded to our investigation, 97% agreed that cycling improves their mood. When delving deeper to ask how cycling makes you feel and what it uniquely offers you, we managed to hear about many uplifting moments from your day-to-day experiences behind the handlebars.
One of the general sentiments from our community were that cycling elicits a unique freedom of the mind from the daily rigmarole. Many reported feeling “at peace”, “reflective”, “carefree”, “proud” and with newfound “reason”. Another shared sentiment was that committing to cycling as a form of sustainable mobility is “better than public transport”, in both experience of “new surroundings” and when it comes to doing better for our planet there is a sense of “pride” in choosing to make a difference. The independence of a cycled commute or a thought-clearing leisurely ride is also “meditative” to some, giving them a newfound “control” over themselves and their thoughts. It allows them to “get in the zone” and whilst the wheels continue to turn, they can “transition into life” each day. A rider even reported feeling like “superwoman” whilst gliding through the city streets on the back of a Human Forest bike, now THAT is brilliant…
Some of the poetic amongst you gave us some beautiful imagery to describe how cycling can bring our racing thoughts to a halt. One person said they “focus on the front tire and forget everything else”, and another that they feel like “a gust cleaning the pavement” as they pedal their way along the road. What is clear is that there is a shared sense of solidarity amongst riders alike, that we all appreciate and feel the impact of choosing ourselves, our well-being, and sustainable mobility. Now, that surely deserves a metaphorical hat’s off! (But Helmets firmly on please!).
In our investigation, it was clear to see that cycling as a form of exercise does indeed have undoubtable benefits for our mental health. But really, it is so much more than that! It opens us to new opportunities to socialise with like-minded community or connect with new parts of ourselves. All whilst having a positive impact on the wider cultural climate, especially when it comes to how we interact with nature, each other, and our consciousness regarding the planet. It gives to us a sense of freedom, reason, reflection, uncharted views of the city, social interactions, and perhaps most importantly a much-needed breath of fresh air…