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Science Explains How Cycling Changes Your Brain And Makes You Mentally Stronger

Science Explains How Cycling Changes Your Brain And Makes You Mentally Stronger

Research has shown that incorporating cycling into your daily routine is not only healthy for your body, but also your brain! If you have ever cycled to work and noticed that your mood and mental capabilities felt better than normal, you were actually experiencing the proven benefits of cycling on mental health.

Many people have taken up cycling as a way to get in shape and live a healthier lifestyle; however, even those who already enjoy good physical health can improve their mental strength through cycling regularly. A mere 30 minutes of steady cycling on the road, trail, or stationary bike can improve memory, reasoning, and planning. It also has scientifically proven benefits for emotional mental health, helping combat depression and anxiety.

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Your Brain on Biking

Cycling can grow your brain in the same way it can grow your muscles. When we cycle, the blood that flows to the muscles increases, allowing our bodies to build more capillaries, supplying more blood (and therefore more oxygen) to those muscles. The same process actually occurs in our brains. Cycling allows our cardiovascular system to grow further into our brains, bringing them more oxygen and nutrients that can improve its performance.

When we ride our bikes, our brains also increase their production of proteins used for creating new brain cells. By biking regularly, we actually double (or even triple) new cell production in our brains! It also increases neurotransmitter activity, allowing the regions of our brain to communicate more effectively; therefore, improving our cognitive abilities.

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The benefits of cycling are especially important for aging brains. These processes counteract the natural decline of brain function and development as we age. Scientists have compared the brains of adults in their 60’s and 70’s and found that the brains of those who regularly participated in physical activities like cycling actually appeared younger than those who do not. This proves that cycling can help keep our minds sharp well into our later years.

Cycling Shifts Our Mental Well-being

People of all ages can experience the benefits of cycling on psychological well-being regardless of their physical health. It can improve one’s self-perception and sense of self-worth, resulting in higher self-esteem. Studies have shown that these improvements were even stronger for mental health patients and people suffering from mild depression, and can potentially be just as effective (if not more effective) than psychotherapy. Regular activities such as cycling not only combat mental health issues like these, but they can also help prevent them long-term.

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Cycling also improves our subjective mood, reduces anxiety, and allows us to handle stress more effectively. It increases the levels of serotonin and dopamine production in our brains. These are the chemicals that make us feel ‘happy’ when they are released in our brains. Scientists have confirmed this effect by analyzing serotonin levels in the brains of lab rats as they got more exercise. Serotonin and dopamine are not the only feel-good chemicals produced when we cycle. Our bodies also produce endorphins and cannabinoids (yes, cannabinoids, the same chemical family associated with marijuana use, although these are naturally produced by our bodies regularly!).

When we cycle, our bodies improve their ability to regulate hormones like cortisol and adrenaline. This results in improved ability to handle stress. Hormonal imbalances cause our bodies to respond to stress negatively, so it is important to have a routine like cycling to allow our bodies to handle stress more easily.

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Doctor’s Orders for Cyclists

How much should we cycle to take full advantages of the benefits it can provide? It is true that cycling with too much intensity can begin to reduce our energy as our bodies become depleted of nutrients. That said, how much cycling is enough to enjoy its benefits before it begins to take too much of a toll on us? Scientists suggest that 30-60 minutes of steady riding at a good pace (no sprinting!) is a good balance. Maintaining a heart rate at roughly 75% of our maximum is also suggested. Think of it as a 7 out of 10 on a scale of ‘no activity’ to ‘cycled so hard I can barely breathe’. This is a general guideline for the average person, so ultimately it is important to cycle to fit one’s ability.

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Last Updated on December 9, 2019

5 Simple Ways to Relieve Stress Effectively

5 Simple Ways to Relieve Stress Effectively

Everyone experiences mental stress at one time or another. Maybe you’re starting a new career, job, or business, or you feel incredibly overwhelmed between work, parenting, and your love life (or a lack of it). It could even be that you simply feel that you have way too much to do and not enough time to do it,  plus, on top of everything, nothing seems to be going the way it should!

Yup, we all experience mental stress from time-to-time, and that’s okay as long as you have the tools, techniques and knowledge that allow you to fully relieve it once it comes.

Here are 5 tips for relieving mental stress when it comes so you can function at your best while feeling good (and doing well) in work, love, or life:

1. Get Rationally Optimistic

Mental stress starts with your perception of your experiences. For instance, most people get stressed out when they perceive their reality as “being wrong” in some way. Essentially, they have a set idea of how things “should be” at any given moment, and when reality ends up being different (not even necessarily bad), they get stressed.

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This process is simply a result of perception and can be easily “fixed” by recognizing that although life might not always be going as YOU think it should, it’s still going as it should—for your own benefit.

In fact, once you fully recognize that everything in your life ultimately happens for your own growth, progress, and development—so you can achieve your goals and dreams—your perception works in your favor. You soon process and respond to your experience of life differently, for your advantage. That’s the essence of becoming “rationally optimistic.”

The result: no more mental stress.

2. Unplug

Just like you might need to unplug your computer when it starts acting all crazy, you should also “unplug” your mind.

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How on earth do you unplug your mind? Simple: just meditate.

It isn’t nearly difficult or complicated as some people think, so, if you don’t already meditate, give it a try. Whether you meditate for 5 minutes, 30 minutes, or 2 hours, this is a surefire way to reduce mental stress.

Meditation has been scientifically proven to relax your body (resulting in less mental stress), while also reducing anxiety and high blood pressure.

3. Easy on the Caffeine

Yes, we know, we know—everyone loves a nice java buzz, and that’s okay, but there’s a fine line between a small caffeine pick-me-up and a racing heart and mind that throws you into a frenzy of mental stress.

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Try giving up caffeine for a while and see how you feel. And, if that’s completely out of the question for you, at least try to minimize it. You might find that lots of your mental stress mysteriously “disappears” as your caffeine intake goes down.

4. Attack Mental Stress Via the Back Door

That’s right: your body and mind are part of the whole being, and are constantly influencing and affecting each other. If you’re experiencing a lot of mental stress, try to reduce it by calming your body down—a calm body equals a calmer mind.

How do you calm your body down and reduce physical stress? A  great way to reduce physical stress (thereby reducing mental stress) is to take natural supplements that are proven to reduce stress and anxiety while lifting your mood. Three good ones to look into are kava-kava, St John’s wort, and rhodiola rosea:

  • Kava-kava is a natural plant known to have mild sedative properties, and you should be able to find it at your natural health food store or vitamin store. It’s available in capsules or liquid extract form.
  • St John’s wort is a natural flower used to treat depression. Again, it’s found at your local health store in capsules or liquid. Because it uplifts mood (enabling you to see the brighter side of all experiences) it helps relieve mental stress as well.
  • Rhodiola rosea is a natural plant shown to reduce stress and uplift mood, and Russian athletes have been using it forever. Like the other two supplements mentioned, rhodiola rosea can be found at your natural health store in capsule or liquid form.

While these supplements are all natural and can be very helpful for most people, always check with your health care provider first as they can cause side-effects depending on your current health situation etc.

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5. Good Old-Fashioned Exercise

This tip has been around forever because it works. Nothing relieves mental stress like running, kickboxing—you name it. Anything super-physical will wipe out most of your mental stresses once the exercise endorphins (happy chemicals) are released into your brain.

The result: mental stress will be gone!

So, if you’re feeling overwhelmed or just plain stressed, try using some of the above tips. You can even print this out or save it to refer to regularly.

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Featured photo credit: Radu Florin via unsplash.com

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