The Amazing Mental and Emotional Benefits of Indoor Cycling

“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:

Positive Spin
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.

Spinning class indoor cycling exercise enjoy workout

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!


  1. You can tune-in or tune-out. Plug in or unplug. It’s freedom! Those who don’t ride are missing out. The wheel changed the world. Putting 2 together – frees the soul.

  2. It is 5:15pm and I’m stressed out. The pressures of life have engulfed me. There are too many tasks that need to be handled. I am overwhelmed. Sitting in traffic for an hour has fueled my internal anxiety.

    I find a parking spot and race into my indoor cycling class with only seconds to spare…

    When class is over, I stand tall. Confident. I’ve got this.

  3. June 18, 2013, a Monday, my mother’s 75th birthday, after a long illness, she passed away. I was supposed to teach a Spinning class that evening. I wrestled with the idea of getting a sub to cover for me, but I honestly wanted to go to class to lose myself…My mom had passed and there was nothing I could really do at that point. I taught that class, not 1 student was the wiser as I didn’t tell them until much later. Spinning IS my happy place, even when everything around me is crazy, Spinning calms me and makes everything right with the world. Becoming a Spinning Instructor opened my world…I used to be very shy, but because my love of it, I’ve overcome so many obstacles and have become a very strong, grounded Instructor. I’m not an entertainer on the bike, you can go to Soul Cycle if you want an entertainer, I’m strong, solid and I do appreciate ICA for keeping it and ME real 🙂

    1. Author

      Tara, thank you for sharing. I love how you put that into words “Spinning IS my happy place, even when everything around me is crazy…and makes everything right with the world.”

      So true!!

  4. Wow Jennifer that’s awesome, thanks!!

  5. Spinning has become my daily meditation. It has allowed me to recover from the death of my husband several years ago, plus deal with many emotional issues. I plan my day, I pray, I feel the motion of my body and breath and I escape to wherever my brain wants to go that particular day. I don’t know what I would do without my spinning and Jennifer, you just continue to verify everything I feel about it. I love your saying, ” I am on a bike that goes nowhere, but it takes me everywhere I want to go.” Thank you for your forever faithful guidance.

  6. The rewards or benefits are numerous – the most important of which is that when you teach, two can learn.

    Not only I enjoy helping others find the same passion in working out as I do, but teaching indoor cycling is a great stress reliever and gives me unbeatable motivation. I am inspired by the participants in my class, from the 70 year old retired veteran, to the young lady who overcame severe injuries from an accident, to the widowed father of three who managed to lose over 50 pounds, quit smoking and lower his blood pressure in less than 9 months. I am uplifted by their perseverance and determination; they are the true heroes – I just show up and play the music.


  7. I’ll keep it short because the list of benefits I have gotten out of IC is pages long! I have had back and neck surgeries and muscle injuries during my time as an IC instructor. In addition I had those emotional bombs explode, sometimes just hours before I have to teach. But with all that I know exactly how I am going to feel *after* a class so walking in my class with either emotional or physical limitations does not get in my way. I know there is a rainbow at the end of that dark tunnel. So for me just thinking about “that feeling”, reminding my self of “that feeling” is all I need to do because I know it’s coming! Your comment “but if getting on that bike that goes nowhere has helped you change your mindset for the better…” reminds me a favorite quote I use on my white board in class: “I’m on a bike that goes nowhere yet it takes me wherever I want to go.”

    1. Author

      “I’m on a bike that goes nowhere but it takes me everywhere I want to go!”
      LOVE it! Thanks for sharing!

  8. Author

    I’ll start!

    I’ve always greatly appreciated the physical benefits of cycling both indoors and outdoors—due to back issues, I can no longer do anything with impact, including running, or even hiking much, so riding a bike is my saving grace. However, it is the mental growth I’ve experienced that has fueled the passion inside of me to want to share it with others, both as an instructor, and as a Master Instructor, helping other instructors develop this passion so they can share it with their own students.

    My mental and emotional enhancements are a little different depending on whether I’m teaching a class or just taking one or riding on my own. Both leave me in a much better mental and emotional state afterwards if I was feeling down beforehand. Teaching, it’s like I surrender myself to helping my own riders, so I tend to forget what ever it was that was bothering me. On the other hand, when I’m not teaching, it’s not as if I try to resolve my problems by thinking about them and seeking a solution. Instead, I focus on the mind-body connection, to my breath, to the physical sensations of riding a bike, and let it serve as a cleansing. In both instances it’s passive; I’m not actually forcing a solution. But the solution (the clarity, the peace, the happiness, the renewed joy) arrives on its own via different means. If that makes sense!

    I’ve resolved personal issues, I’ve dealt with the sadness of aging parents, or with their loss after that passed, I’ve made up after arguments with my hubby, I’ve forgotten why I was feeling low in the first place!

    One of my FAVORITE things to do is to use my ride time to clear my brain and come up with new ideas, whether it be for ICA articles, workshops, profiles, or really any project I’m working on. This usually happens when I’m outside riding, or when I ride as a student or by myself in my basement. My absolute best profiles, since my early days as a Master Instructor all the way to now, have come to me while on a bike ride or a long spin by myself. It’s like I clean out the junk blocking my inspirational pathways!

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