After scrolling too long, I put down my phone. After seeing more disturbing images on the TV, I flick that off, too. It had been a long day, after a long night, after a long week, after the longest year ever.
2020 has taught us a lot of things, but one of the most important lessons might be just how important regular exercise is for mental health. Specifically, as cyclists, our hobby might be doing as much for our minds as it is for our bodies. Mental health is only now getting the recognition it deserves in both the healthcare world and society in general. For all the year we’ve been told to exercise and eat right, we would have done a lot better to add relaxing and being happy to the list, too.
There are many studies on just how important exercise is to our mental well-being. One of the most mentioned studies on the subject was published in Lancetin 2018. Researchers worked with over a million subjects over the course of three years to track their volume and intensity of exercise as well as the frequency, duration, and other characteristics of mental health issues. By tracking how many bad days a participant faced, researchers hoped to get a better idea of how exercise influenced mental health and general happiness and mood.
One of the most interesting elements of this study when compared with others is that it also tracked the type of exercise in an attempt to measure just how impactful sports like outdoor cycling, indoor cycling, running, and others might be on mental health. And it wasn’t just individual sports, either. Team sports like soccer and basketball were included in the seventy-five types of exercise recorded, and the added camaraderie of group participation had an impact.
By study’s end, team sports offer the greatest reduction of negative or adverse mental health days, which included bouts of depressions, elevated stress, or episodes of marked anxiety. In total, team sports reduced the numbers of bad days by 23%. Close behind, however, was indoor and outdoor cycling, with a 21% reduction.
Researchers are confident that the added emotional support and interaction of team sports plays a large role in improving mental health, but that’s something cyclists can incorporate into their riding. By joining teams and clubs, organizing group rides, and finding a committed group of riding buddies, we can increase the effectiveness of exercise to improve mental health, and maybe even get stronger physically, too.
This study is certainly important in providing proven benefits of mental health, but you’ve probably experienced similar results during periods with or without riding. We’ve all had pals who have had to take time off the bike report being more anxious, irritable, depressed, or anxious while being sidelined. Conversely, we often hear anecdotal evidence of new riders shocked at how much happier, energized, and motivated they feel throughout the day thanks to the time they invest cycling.
How has cycling and exercise improved or supported your mental health? Let us know!