Cycling for Wellness

On initial observation, cycling is a physical activity. How physical? Well that depends on how hard you crank those pedals over. But is there more to cycling? Beyond physical fitness, can cycling help with your mental health and overall wellbeing?

Before we continue, we should probably quickly cover what is meant by “wellness”. I must admit, I had very little understanding of wellness until I got talking with a fellow cyclist, and they explained to me how they were benefiting from cycling in a way I had never really thought about. But on reflection, I realised I, too, had had the same experience.

What is Wellness?

Wellness is a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being, and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity

The World Health Organisation

From my own introduction to the subject, I’d define wellness is the conscious process of becoming aware of, and making choices that lead you towards a healthy and fulfilling life. 

Regular exercise plays a significant part in this process, and cycling is an excellent way to train and condition your body.

But from my own experience, and that which was recently shared with me by a fellow cyclist, there is an aspect of cycling that goes beyond the physical.

Being Mindful Whilst Cycling

I should say before continuing, I am far from a Buddhist monk. My state of zen is often shall we say, conspicuously absent.

Several people who have had my best interests at heart – my wife, my doctor, my friend who is a mental health practitioner – have all espoused to me about the benefits of meditation. And as much as I like the idea of regular meditation, for one reason or another, I have never made a habit of it.

The struggle I’ve found with meditation is the act of calming the mind.

Being present. In the moment. Dwelling neither on the past, nor the future. Personally, I find that challenging. Whilst I might manage 10, 20, or at a push, 30 seconds, inevitably, my mind wanders back to thoughts of the days events, or what’s to come, or what has been.

But not whilst on the bike.

Many a time, prior to heading out on the bike, I’ve thought to myself: “Ok, whilst I’m out, I’ll think about {insert some current life-relevant topic here}” and then I’ll – hopefully – come home not only having had a nice workout, but also with a solution, or maybe several solutions to my pressing problems.

Rarely does that happen.

Because whilst I’m out on the bike, I don’t really think.

Don’t Make Me Think

The act of pedalling, paying attention to the road ahead, maybe concentrating on completing an interval, all of this actively stops me from thinking about anything other than the present moment.

And this was the revelation to me. I’d realised I was doing this, because as above, I’d often come home without having thought of a solution to my pressing problems.

But I hadn’t understood the benefit of my brain switching off and only being active in the moment until I’d had the conversation with a fellow cyclist about the fact that this was, in itself, a good thing!

Having since spoken with several other cyclists, it turns out, I’m not alone in this.

One of the big joys expressed by other cyclists is that being out on the bike brings this same peace, even if like myself, they hadn’t actively understood it.

Does Cycling Help Mental Health?

According to the NHS, there are 5 steps to improving our mental health and well being. These are:

  1. Connecting with other people
  2. Being physically active
  3. Learning new skills
  4. Give to others
  5. Pay attention to the present moment

Connecting With Other People

Can cycling help you connect with other people? Absolutely.

As someone who would consider their-selves very introverted, and who does not know anyone from their circle of friends who cycles, I can share with you that I have found approaching other cyclists to be an enjoyable experience.

One of the hardest things as an adult about meeting new people is having no common ground. When at school, or college, or university, we have a shared situation and so naturally find it easier to form bonds with our classmates. As we get older, the primary place to find friends becomes work. And some of us don’t want to combine work and personal friendship.

With cycling, we regain that shared bond. When two cyclists meet, we instantly know we share at least one common interest.

And whilst you may not be actively seeking out new people to connect with, a quick chat at traffic lights, or pulling over to help a fellow cyclist with a puncture can lead to new and meaningful interactions.

There’s also online tools like Zwift, and Strava that help connect us together in new and interesting ways, though these should be secondary to meeting people in real life.

Being physically active

As we improve our physical fitness, our body shape improves and this leads to improved self-confidence in the way we look and feel about ourselves.

Through our cycling we may choose to set goals and challenges, and the act of working towards and achieving these goals greatly benefits our mental health.

Any physical activity will trigger our body to release “feel good” hormones called endorphins. These endorphins work to positively impact our mood and state of mind.

Lastly physical activity will naturally tire the body. If you struggle with sleeping, this alone can help. And the benefits of a good night’s sleep on the mind are not to be overlooked.

Learning new skills

As with any new hobby, there are plenty of things to learn about cycling. Whether it’s the initial act of learning to ride your bike, or taking things further and gaining that road sense, how to ride in clipped in pedals, and on to more advanced topics like how to pace rides, and bike maintenance and repair.

There are so many aspects to cycling that lead to new and improved skills. How about this one: as a direct result of my cycling, I am now sat here writing out this blog post to share with you. Completely unrelated to me actually being sat on my bike, but yet deeply enjoyable and in itself, a whole different set of skills for me to learn and master.

How about you? Where will, or has, your cycling taken you? Let me know in the comments below.

Giving to others

Cycling can feel like something of a lonely sport at times. When it comes to the act of climbing a hill, smashing our a new personal best, or sometimes just the act of getting on the bike and doing a ride when you might not be feeling entirely in the mood, all of these serve to benefit yourself.

But there are lots of aspects to cycling that you can share with others.

It might be that you have just bought a new bike and give your old bike to a friend or relative who has expressed an interest in cycling themselves.

Or maybe it’s stopping to help another cyclist in need. Perhaps they’ve had an accident, or a puncture, and you’re able to lend a hand in a time of need.

Perhaps you could organise a group ride for you and your friends, planning a route (maybe with a cafe stop, or two) to get out and enjoy a few hours together.

Are you a bit of a mechanical whizz when it comes to gear indexing, bar tape application, or chain replacements? So many chances to help out a fellow cyclist!

There are so many ways in which cycling brings us together, and in which you can share your time, skills, and friendship with others.

Pay attention to the present moment

We covered this one earlier in this post. But yes, absolutely, cycling somewhat forces you into the present moment.

Some people call this mindfulness, or “being mindful”. So many cyclists I’ve spoken to about this didn’t actually realise it was happening until it was pointed out to them.

How about you? Has cycling helped you be more present and mindful, either during or after a ride?

Can Cycling Improve Your Wellness?

Cycling has improved my state of wellness. And I believe it can improve yours, too.

What’s amazing about cycling is that – if you’re anything like every other cyclist I’ve talked too about wellness and cycling – you will very likely have been actively improving your own wellness, even if you haven’t realised it.

It seems that for most of us, it’s very difficult not to be in the moment when on our bikes. The act of exercising stops us thinking about the past, or the future. We are (almost) forced to remain in the now.

Combine this calming effect on our thoughts with the physical exercise gained from constantly turning those pedals over, and whether we realise it or not, our overall state of wellness, and well being improves with every ride.

I’d love to hear your opinions on this subject, so please do leave a comment and let me know how whether or not cycling has had any impact on your wellness.

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