“I’m on a bike that goes nowhere but it takes me everywhere I want to go!” ~Sherri, indoor cycling instructor
As indoor cycling instructors and participants, we probably don’t need any additional proof that exercise, especially our own favorite—cycling (indoors or outdoors)—has mental and emotional benefits in addition to the physical benefits. We have all no doubt experienced this therapeutic effect at some point. However, you’ll want to read more about these benefits in this article in Bicycling magazine, Your Brain on Bicycling by Selene Yeager. It details how cycling can help increase blood flow to the brain, growing neurons and keeping us sharper while improving concentration and memory.
Ride, work, ride, repeat. It’s a scientifically proven system. In a recent study in the Journal of Clinical and Diagnostic Research, scientists found that people scored higher on tests of memory, reasoning, and planning after 30 minutes of spinning on a stationary bike than they did before they rode. They also completed the tests faster after pedaling.
Who amongst us hasn’t experienced the uplifting emotional benefits of a cycling class? Have you ever gone to teach your class in a terrible mood or just overwhelmed by life, only to walk away afterward with a smile on your face? Have you ever been sad or depressed, but after class you seem to have a renewed love of life, practically forgetting what got you down in the first place?
Yeager goes on to describe how exercise can work as well as therapy:
Of course, there’s a lot more to mental fitness than just improving your smarts. Plenty of science backs the idea that a good ride can also have emotional benefits. Cycling can elevate your mood, relieve anxiety, increase stress resistance, and even banish the blues.
“Exercise works as well as psychotherapy and antidepressants in the treatment of depression, maybe better,” says James Blumenthal, PhD, professor of behavioral medicine in the department of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina. A recent study analyzing 26 years of research finds that even just some exercise—as little as 20 to 30 minutes a day—can prevent depression over the long term.
At the moment, scientists don’t completely understand the exact mechanisms, but they do know that physical activity like cycling boosts the production of feel-good chemicals such as serotonin and dopamine. “As soon as our lab rats start running on their wheels, they get a 100 to 200 percent increase in serotonin levels,” says J. David Glass, PhD, a brain-chemistry researcher at Kent State University in Kent, Ohio.
As you pedal past the 20- to 30-minute mark, other mood-lifting chemicals like endorphins and cannabinoids (which, as the name suggests, are in the same family of chemicals that give pot smokers their high) kick in. When researchers asked 24 men to either run or pedal at a moderate intensity or sit for about 50 minutes, they found high blood levels of anandamide, a natural cannabinoid, in the exercisers, but not in sedentary volunteers.
Even better, regularly riding your bike helps keep hormones like adrenaline and cortisol in check, which means you’ll feel less stressed and you’ll bounce back from anxiety-filled situations more easily.
This Bicycling article is worth bookmarking and referring back to when you need a reminder about the mental and emotional benefits of indoor cycling. You may also want to forward it to your riders, or print it out and include it in a packet for new students.
In the comments below, will you share the reasons why you are so passionate about indoor cycling? What has it helped you overcome? No need for specifics, but if getting on that bike that goes nowhere has helped you change your mindset for the better, please let us know about it! Have you made important decisions after an amazing ride? Have you felt at peace with a troubling event or decision you had to make? Have you resolved conflicts with family or friends, or in your job?
When we see the collective and amazing results we all have experienced, it will be like a massive tsunami of joy spread around the world!
Please, let us know!