The 13-19th of May saw The Mental Health Foundation host mental health awareness week. Depression and anxiety are two of the most common forms of mental disorders in the UK. According to Mind – the mental health charity – 1 in 4 people in the UK will experience a mental health problem each year. The last health and wellbeing survey for England, published in 2016 – found that 3.3 people in 100 have depression, 5.9 people have generalised anxiety and 7.9 in 100 have mixed anxiety and depression. Something that a lot of mental health organisations recommend – is being active. With that in mind and using personal experience of depression – here’s 4 ways cycling can help.
1. Rides Help
Cycling has so many positive benefits about it. It’s not only good for your body and fitness – but it can also help the mind too. Exercising releases chemicals (Endorphins) in the brain. These endorphins react with the brain receptors – reducing the perception of pain. Endorphins act in a similar way to strong pain relief drugs like morphine. So exercise is kind of like a feel good drug. Depending on the timing and intensity of the exercise – endorphins can also help regulate your ‘body clock’ and sleep patterns. So for example – cycling in the morning can help wake you up and sharpen the mind. At the same time – physical exercise can help with sleep by helping to reduce stress. Cycling (exercise) can really help improve your self-esteem. As with any exercise – you may not necessarily enjoy it every time, but you will feel better for doing it. Whether you are trying to get fit, lose weight or just generally improve your wellbeing.
2. Cycling to Work
Travelling to work by car, sitting in traffic or sitting on public transport can cause stress and anxiety before you have even arrived. You may often hear someone in the workplace say what a ‘nightmare journey in’ they have had. I’m not saying that cycling is completely stress free – but cycling can to work is a great way to start the day. As we said in our first point – cycling can reduce stress levels and those same chemicals that are released when exercising, can help improve concentration and sharpen the mind. Lastly, you’ll feel good about yourself for actually making the effort to ride in to work instead of taking the bus or driving.
3. Ride with a Friend
Ask any cyclist – having a cycling buddy is a good thing. Riding solo is a great way to clearing your head, but you may want to use the time out on your bike to talk about the things on your mind. There is a lot of professional help from groups like Samaritans and SANE – if you feel you are (or someone you know) needs it. If you have someone in your life that you trust and who knows about your depression and (or) anxiety, they are invaluable. If you have a cycling buddy that you are comfortable talking to and that’s happy to listen to you with no judgement or analysis, it’s a real positive asset. Whilst talking through the things on your mind is a positive thing, alternatively you may just need to ride out with a mate with no questions asked.
4. Join a Club
Joining a cycling club may not be for everyone. However, cycling clubs can not only improve you ride life and your social life, by being part of a group with shared interest can lift your mood. One of the biggest difficulties with riding on your own is getting the motivation to get out on the bike. All good intentions can go out of the window if you are feeling low. Finding a group or club that ride regularly, like once or twice a week – will give you something to look forward to.
Obviously I am going to be biased about cycling and it’s benefits. But as someone who has suffered with moderate depression – I can’t emphasise enough, the positive benefits of physical exercise. Whether you choose to cycle, run, swim, go to the gym – give yourself a break and do something. Exercise your body – free your mind.
Samaritans helpline: 116123