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Cycling is Great for the Mind: Here’s Why

By Hannah Randa

Cycling is Great for the Mind: Here’s Why

Feeling lethargic or a little stressed? You’re not alone. As we observe the last week of Mental Health Awareness Month, we are encouraged to prioritize both our physical and mental wellbeing. A timely reminder as we live through a growing mental health crisis that has been exacerbated since the onset of the pandemic.

Everyday Nakhulo Khaimia – Marketing Manager, gives her mind an extra boost. We're not referring to tossing back multiple strong shots of espresso or playing one of those brain-training games found in plentiful apps. "Nothing can fix a bad mood quite like getting my leg over a saddle from time to time.” says Nakhulo

"When I get to the office, my brain is at peak activity for a few hours." After her mental focus sputters to a halt later in the day, she utilizes the lunch break with another short spin to run errands or catch a breeze. “It jump-starts my brain especially when I'm working on something and it's not coming out the way I want it.” she adds.

Right now is a magical time to be outside; so when it comes to picking an outdoor activity, there are of course plenty of options out in there to weigh up. However, should you pick cycling, here’s why we think you’ll be doing your mind some serious good:

Proven Stress Reliever

In a fast pacing world, we often find ourselves fighting off day-to-day stress or combating symptoms of an ongoing condition. Researched studies show that people who ride bikes daily are more content with their lives than individuals who haven’t biked since becoming an adult. “A 30-minute bout of daily cycling usually eases any feelings of stress from my daily hustle and brings me to a place where I’m more positive and motivated as it gives me time to reflect on the day ahead and time to unwind in the evening.” says Nakhulo. Being a cardiovascular exercise, it promotes the release of endorphins into the system which helps lowers the stress levels. “Pumping some hyped-up music or motivational pep talks, definitely creates a vibe which does wonders for my mood, reduces fatigue and leaves me feeling more positive about the day.” she adds. 

Keeps you Cognitively Sharp and Improves Memory

Our cognitive abilities tend to decline as we age. Hopping on a bike to explore different routes and terrains is one way of challenging your mind to experience the combining effect of constantly being alert to monitor your environment while pedaling. All this in addition to listening to podcasts or audiobooks. The intensity forces the nerve cells inside your brain to fire up thus improving your ability to learn and remember things faster. Nakhulo says, “Sure, you can multitask with other forms of exercises, but for me cycling has improved my reaction time to challenging situations, memory and creative thinking.”

Combats Anxiety and improves Mental Resilience

Cycling can intensely build you mental strength as it has also been found to reduce anxiety and depression. It helps keep hormones like cortisol and adrenaline in check, which enabling one to bounce back from anxiety-filled situations more easily. “Although cycling is a low-impact aerobic exercise, doing it every day has the power to make one consider their life happier, potentially preventing anxiousness from developing into full-blown panic attacks or disorders. Once I cover a good set of kilometers, it’s easy to tell myself: Oh, man, any obstacles I face today is nothing compared to that butt kicking I just gave myself”, says Nakhulo.

Grows your Social Circle and Boosts Confidence

Nakhulo and other members of a cycling club called Pedalwise

When it comes to riding a bike, you have the choice between going solo or making it a social activity. All that newfound network could result in a strong support system and newfound confidence.

 “I meet a lot of people when cycling. As a marketer by profession, it gives me the chance to showcase products that I market at the same time get feedback on the brand that I represent. For example, I work at Huawei so when cycling, I bring a Huauwei smartwatch and get to share its experience with my cycling buddies. I also get an opportunity to talk about other products such as weighing scales, free buds, speakers etc. that are relevant for the outdoors. So it becomes a win-win situation as I get to boost my confidence in networking and overall performance at work.” says Nakhulo.

It’s a Peaceful Escape that Gets you out in the open 

Nakhulo poses during the 2021 KiliMarathon in Moshi, Tanzania

Forget dragging yourself to the gym. Cycling can be easily woven into your daily routine without disrupting your plans. Also, while all exercise is good, doing it out in nature gives you the bonus of feeling energised, revitalized and optimistic in a way that bouncing around a gym can’t. So why not ditch the gym and get out on your bike to soak up some sunshine, scenery and peaceful vibes!

“Repetitively riding a bike can be a very meditative experience. You enter this peaceful state, and just get away from all that's going on in the world today,” says Nakhulo. “During the pandemic, I got to discover some of the most beautiful sites within and outside the country. Through Pedalwise Cycling Club, we even challenged ourselves and participated in KiliMarathon which made me realize that I can always push myself to the next level,” she adds

Of course, no type of exercise can replace professional treatment for mental health conditions, but research does seem to suggest a solid psychological benefit to it. Besides the physical health benefits of cycling, we should also appreciate its mental health benefits.