Cycling regularly helps to reduce stress, improve the quality of sleep and general well-being
In this hectic and chaotic era that is the 21st century, many of us are feeling under more stress than ever before and are finding it increasing difficult to handle. We need to find a way to relax and let off some steam, a human exhaust valve if you like.
In an ideal world, we’d head off into the sun and find the nearest beach and bar to rest and recuperate for a week or two. However, not every can afford such luxury or have the available time to be able to do this.
Instead, we turn to the most affordable and accessible solutions, such as watching television, playing video games or simply opening another bottle of wine. Although fun and relatively harmless, these options are good enough for our long-term health and well-being.
How Cycling Helps to Reduce Stress
Thankfully, there are some healthier options available, starting with cycling, that can help to lower stress levels. Cycling helps in a variety of ways and offers stress relief by decreasing financial outgoings at the same time as increasing fitness levels.
Here are few ways in which cycling can help you fend off stress and few ideas through which you can get the most out of your two-wheeled friend.
Exercise Feels Good
When we talk about the way being fit feels, we are not just talking about the end results, but the process as well. During exercise, heart pressure increases, which causes a reaction in your brain. Physiologically, increased heart rate means one of two things, fighting for your survival or running from an enemy. Since both of these things cause severe stress, in order to calm itself down in the moment of an extreme danger, your brain starts releasing Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor, also known as BDNF.
Researchers are looking into possibilities for reversing a number of devastating brain disorders, including Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, Lou Gehrig’s disease and Huntington’s Disease (HD). The Huntington’s Outreach Project for Education, at Stanford University (HOPES) is conducting research into the latter and hope to tap into the brain’s natural process to help sufferers of HD.
For people not suffering with these terrible disorders, BDNF helps us feel at ease and, assuming there is no imminent danger, even happy. Apart from BDNF, your body also releases endorphin, which is another chemical released to fight stress.
Whilst BDNF and Endorphins are deep-routed in our natural make-up and were once used to warn us of sabre-toothed tigers and rampaging woolly-mammoths, they can now be used as stress relief aids. These hormones are meant to help you get through moments of imminent danger but in reality you can cheat your body into releasing them through exercise. In this way, you can exploit these simple bodily processes into aiding you fight some subtler and long-lasting stress effects that you might be experiencing.
Night, Night, Sleep Well
No matter what you do in life, getting a good night’s sleep is always important and imperative to a health life. When you are exhausted, you will be a lot more susceptible to harmful external influences and might even have some difficulties dealing with them in the best way possible. Unfortunately, it is still unclear how exactly exercise helps you sleep better but the most widely held view is that exercise calms anxiety, which is one of the main causes of insomnia.
In that respect, cycling for just 75 minutes each week, even if that’s 3 x 25 minute sessions, can make all the difference in both quantity and quality of your sleep.
Re-cycle in Nature
While urban settings usually seem extremely diverse, that mixture of steel, concrete and glass quickly becomes a repetitive landscape. In order to get away from the noise, stress and blandness, get back to nature and go for a ride in the countryside.
Whilst these are great options for experienced cyclists, they may be too demanding for beginner cyclists. With this in mind, you can either wait until your stamina can deal with longer rides or consider getting an electric bike.
Electric bikes can help improve overall fitness, with the motors used infrequently for the more challenging parts of a ride, like uphill and into strong headwinds.
Electric bikes have an integrated electric motor which is used for propulsion and either helps your pedal-power or simply work in a moped-style manner. Either way, you get to enjoy the landscape around you without being too obsessed with how tired you are.
Cycling and Meditating
While it is true that you can retreat to the privacy of your own thoughts, even while sitting in your room sipping herbal tea, there are better ways to do so … said the non-hippy cyclist. The rush of fresh air, an open road before you and a clear sky above is a much more stimulating environment for meditation.
The repetitiveness of cycling can further have a calming (almost hypnotic) effect on you that will further enhance the experience. Just keep in mind that you are still a traffic participant and therefore have a duty to watch out for what happens around you at the same time, easy in urban areas but perhaps harder when you are more relaxed in the countryside.
Still, doing both of these things simultaneously is much easier than you think, once you get a bit of practice. Hey, any excuse to cycle more eh?
Simpler Urban Commute
Additionally, we need to keep in mind that a bike is one of the greatest means of urban commute. Look at it this way, being a traffic participant in a large city is one of the most stress-inducing roles most people can think of. Now add to this the idea of being stuck in a traffic jam on your way to an important meeting and you will get the full picture.
However, cycling to work will be a more reliable daily commute, which means that you will have one less thing to worry about.
Seeing how a bike can easily access the most unlikely of places, this alone can make your daily route to work more flexible and therefore more interesting. Just check out a few of the routes on Strava of people that commute daily.
Another thing you need to keep in mind is that cycling improves your lifestyle in general. Apart from losing weight, increasing lung capacity and heart strength, cycling also has a chance to improve your sex life.
While in the past there was a belief that cycling can cause erectile dysfunction, this ludicrous proposition was debunked a while back. If anything, there is a Harvard University research that claims that cycling three hours per week, lowers the risk of impotence by 30 percent. This means that a male cyclist most likely has one less thing to worry about. Ergo, less stress.
Another concern among cyclists is that cycling may increase the risk of prostate cancer but as you’ll see from our recent article, that’s not something to worry about either.
It is virtually impossible to fit all benefits of cycling in a single article, so I’ll not get stressed trying to and instead, go for a ride.