October 10th 2019 is World Mental Health Day, and social media has been full of posts reminding us all to talk to friends or professionals if we are struggling with our mental health. Not to go it alone.
For others we are asked to look out for our friends and loved ones and to listen and support without judgement. With strangers, we are to look past what we see on the outside and recognise that some behaviours are covering an internal battle that we cannot see or know.
Mental health issues are common and account for the largest single source of percieved disability (23%) in the UK, which is a scary statistic
There is significant evidence that there is a link between physical activity and improved mental health and wellbeing. The Royal College of Psychiatrists recognise exercise as a treatment for a wide range of mental health conditions.
Physical activity has been shown to increase self-esteem and reduce depression and anxiety. Furthermore, activity performed outdoors can improve cognitive performance, and reduce reliance on anti-depressants. And yet for many, mental health issues themself become the barrier to physical activity and participation in sports. Reminders of not being picked for the school team emerge, or worries about being ridiculed & looking stupid surface – especially for group activities
I believe it’s no accident that mental health charities benefit so well from charity runs and cycle rides. Running and cycling are so inclusive, and participants come in all shapes, sizes and abilities. In these worlds there genuinely is something for everyone.
You can join a club, or go it alone. People run/ride in groups for a sense of belonging, for company – a community to take your mind off of issues for a while. Others choose run/ride alone – enjoying the solitude of the open road, a chance to clear your mind and focus only on the ride or the scenery. Demons are battled, and often beaten through running and cycling.
I will focus on cycling – since this is a cycling blog, but most of the benefits of cycling to improve your mental wellbeing apply equally to running.
Cycling gets you outside
We’ve already established that outdoor activities can leave you feeling revitalised & energised (well once you get your energy back). On a bike ride you can get to see quieter back roads, visit tucked away coffee shops, stop at the top of a hill and admire the view below.
Cycling increases your social circle
Whether you choose to ride alone or join a group, you won’t be able to avoid meeting and possibly getting to know other cyclists. If you decide to get competive, you will start to get to see familiar faces at events. Whether you are fast or slow, you can guarantee that you won’t be alone.
Riding regularly is proven to reduce stress. Riding to work for example could mean not sitting in traffic jams, and maybe even getting to work quicker. 30 minutes of daily activity can boost memory and creative thinking, which could help you feel more positive. As you get fitter, you will most likely get faster and stronger. There’s nothing quite like finally riding all the way up the local hills and knowing that you’ve come so far. It can make you feel invincible.
Whilst cycling may not be a cure for a deep rooted mental health issue, the habit of outdoor cycling is an investment in your mental health. It helps you to build resiliance. It can be an instant mood changer, a chance to shut out the world for a while and focus on nothing but the ride. This can be priceless.
For me cycling is the best thing in the world. It has given me a sense of achievement, and I have most likely achieved more (for my own sanity) on my bike than in any other area of my life in recent years. If I need to think, I get on my bike. If I need to just get away, I get on my bike. It’s a simple pleasure, a time to smile, a time to be with friends, and a time to be alone. It’s whatever I want it to be on any particular day.
If you are sat reading this at home and having a hard time – put down your phone, and go outside. Start with a walk to the park, or grab a pair of trainers and run down the road, or hire a bike and ride to the beach.
Enjoy the moment, and see where it goes from there.