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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 March 13, 2019

How to Get out of a Rut: 12 Useful Ways to Get Unstuck

How to Get out of a Rut: 12 Useful Ways to Get Unstuck

Have you gotten into a rut before? Or are you in a rut right now?

You know you’re in a rut when you run out of ideas and inspiration. I personally see a rut as a productivity vacuum. It might very well be a reason why you aren’t getting results. Even as you spend more time on your work, you can’t seem to get anything constructive done. While I’m normally productive, I get into occasional ruts (especially when I’ve been working back-to-back without rest). During those times, I can spend an entire day in front of the computer and get nothing done. It can be quite frustrating.

Over time, I have tried and found several methods that are helpful to pull me out of a rut. If you experience ruts too, whether as a working professional, a writer, a blogger, a student or other work, you will find these useful. Here are 12 of my personal tips to get out of ruts:

1. Work on the small tasks.

When you are in a rut, tackle it by starting small. Clear away your smaller tasks which have been piling up. Reply to your emails, organize your documents, declutter your work space, and reply to private messages.

Whenever I finish doing that, I generate a positive momentum which I bring forward to my work.

2. Take a break from your work desk.

Get yourself away from your desk and go take a walk. Go to the washroom, walk around the office, go out and get a snack.

Your mind is too bogged down and needs some airing. Sometimes I get new ideas right after I walk away from my computer.

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3. Upgrade yourself

Take the down time to upgrade yourself. Go to a seminar. Read up on new materials (#7). Pick up a new language. Or any of the 42 ways here to improve yourself.

The modern computer uses different typefaces because Steve Jobs dropped in on a calligraphy class back in college. How’s that for inspiration?

4. Talk to a friend.

Talk to someone and get your mind off work for a while.

Talk about anything, from casual chatting to a deep conversation about something you really care about. You will be surprised at how the short encounter can be rejuvenating in its own way.

5. Forget about trying to be perfect.

If you are in a rut, the last thing you want to do is step on your own toes with perfectionist tendencies.

Just start small. Do what you can, at your own pace. Let yourself make mistakes.

Soon, a little trickle of inspiration will come. And then it’ll build up with more trickles. Before you know it, you have a whole stream of ideas.

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6. Paint a vision to work towards.

If you are continuously getting in a rut with your work, maybe there’s no vision inspiring you to move forward.

Think about why you are doing this, and what you are doing it for. What is the end vision in mind?

Make it as vivid as possible. Make sure it’s a vision that inspires you and use that to trigger you to action.

7. Read a book (or blog).

The things we read are like food to our brain. If you are out of ideas, it’s time to feed your brain with great materials.

Here’s a list of 40 books you can start off with. Stock your browser with only the feeds of high quality blogs, such as Lifehack.org, DumbLittleMan, Seth Godin’s Blog, Tim Ferris’ Blog, Zen Habits or The Personal Excellence Blog.

Check out the best selling books; those are generally packed with great wisdom.

8. Have a quick nap.

If you are at home, take a quick nap for about 20-30 minutes. This clears up your mind and gives you a quick boost. Nothing quite like starting off on a fresh start after catching up on sleep.

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9. Remember why you are doing this.

Sometimes we lose sight of why we do what we do, and after a while we become jaded. A quick refresher on why you even started on this project will help.

What were you thinking when you thought of doing this? Retrace your thoughts back to that moment. Recall why you are doing this. Then reconnect with your muse.

10. Find some competition.

Nothing quite like healthy competition to spur us forward. If you are out of ideas, then check up on what people are doing in your space.

Colleagues at work, competitors in the industry, competitors’ products and websites, networking conventions.. you get the drill.

11. Go exercise.

Since you are not making headway at work, might as well spend the time shaping yourself up.

Sometimes we work so much that we neglect our health and fitness. Go jog, swim, cycle, whichever exercise you prefer.

As you improve your physical health, your mental health will improve, too. The different facets of ourselves are all interlinked.

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Here’re 15 Tips to Restart the Exercise Habit (and How to Keep It).

12. Take a good break.

Ruts are usually signs that you have been working too long and too hard. It’s time to get a break.

Beyond the quick tips above, arrange for a 1-day or 2-days of break from your work. Don’t check your (work) emails or do anything work-related. Relax and do your favorite activities. You will return to your work recharged and ready to start.

Contrary to popular belief, the world will not end from taking a break from your work. In fact, you will be much more ready to make an impact after proper rest. My best ideas and inspiration always hit me whenever I’m away from my work.

Take a look at this to learn the importance of rest: The Importance of Scheduling Downtime

More Resources About Getting out of a Rut

Featured photo credit: Joshua Earle via unsplash.com

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