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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 January 21, 2020

The Best Way to Create a Vision for the Life You Want

The Best Way to Create a Vision for the Life You Want

Creating a vision for your life might seem like a frivolous, fantastical waste of time, but it’s not: creating a compelling vision of the life you want is actually one of the most effective strategies for achieving the life of your dreams. Perhaps the best way to look at the concept of a life vision is as a compass to help guide you to take the best actions and make the right choices that help propel you toward your best life.

your vision of where or who you want to be is the greatest asset you have

    Why You Need a Vision

    Experts and life success stories support the idea that with a vision in mind, you are more likely to succeed far beyond what you could otherwise achieve without a clear vision. Think of crafting your life vision as mapping a path to your personal and professional dreams. Life satisfaction and personal happiness are within reach. The harsh reality is that if you don’t develop your own vision, you’ll allow other people and circumstances to direct the course of your life.

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    How to Create Your Life Vision

    Don’t expect a clear and well-defined vision overnight—envisioning your life and determining the course you will follow requires time, and reflection. You need to cultivate vision and perspective, and you also need to apply logic and planning for the practical application of your vision. Your best vision blossoms from your dreams, hopes, and aspirations. It will resonate with your values and ideals, and will generate energy and enthusiasm to help strengthen your commitment to explore the possibilities of your life.

    What Do You Want?

    The question sounds deceptively simple, but it’s often the most difficult to answer. Allowing yourself to explore your deepest desires can be very frightening. You may also not think you have the time to consider something as fanciful as what you want out of life, but it’s important to remind yourself that a life of fulfillment does not usually happen by chance, but by design.

    It’s helpful to ask some thought-provoking questions to help you discover the possibilities of what you want out of life. Consider every aspect of your life, personal and professional, tangible and intangible. Contemplate all the important areas, family and friends, career and success, health and quality of life, spiritual connection and personal growth, and don’t forget about fun and enjoyment.

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    Some tips to guide you:

    • Remember to ask why you want certain things
    • Think about what you want, not on what you don’t want.
    • Give yourself permission to dream.
    • Be creative. Consider ideas that you never thought possible.
    • Focus on your wishes, not what others expect of you.

    Some questions to start your exploration:

    • What really matters to you in life? Not what should matter, what does matter.
    • What would you like to have more of in your life?
    • Set aside money for a moment; what do you want in your career?
    • What are your secret passions and dreams?
    • What would bring more joy and happiness into your life?
    • What do you want your relationships to be like?
    • What qualities would you like to develop?
    • What are your values? What issues do you care about?
    • What are your talents? What’s special about you?
    • What would you most like to accomplish?
    • What would legacy would you like to leave behind?

    It may be helpful to write your thoughts down in a journal or creative vision board if you’re the creative type. Add your own questions, and ask others what they want out of life. Relax and make this exercise fun. You may want to set your answers aside for a while and come back to them later to see if any have changed or if you have anything to add.

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    What Would Your Best Life Look Like?

    Describe your ideal life in detail. Allow yourself to dream and imagine, and create a vivid picture. If you can’t visualize a picture, focus on how your best life would feel. If you find it difficult to envision your life 20 or 30 years from now, start with five years—even a few years into the future will give you a place to start. What you see may surprise you. Set aside preconceived notions. This is your chance to dream and fantasize.

    A few prompts to get you started:

    • What will you have accomplished already?
    • How will you feel about yourself?
    • What kind of people are in your life? How do you feel about them?
    • What does your ideal day look like?
    • Where are you? Where do you live? Think specifics, what city, state, or country, type of community, house or an apartment, style and atmosphere.
    • What would you be doing?
    • Are you with another person, a group of people, or are you by yourself?
    • How are you dressed?
    • What’s your state of mind? Happy or sad? Contented or frustrated?
    • What does your physical body look like? How do you feel about that?
    • Does your best life make you smile and make your heart sing? If it doesn’t, dig deeper, dream bigger.

    It’s important to focus on the result, or at least a way-point in your life. Don’t think about the process for getting there yet—that’s the next stepGive yourself permission to revisit this vision every day, even if only for a few minutes. Keep your vision alive and in the front of your mind.

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    Plan Backwards

    It may sound counter-intuitive to plan backwards rather than forwards, but when you’re planning your life from the end result, it’s often more useful to consider the last step and work your way back to the first. This is actually a valuable and practical strategy for making your vision a reality.

    • What’s the last thing that would’ve had to happen to achieve your best life?
    • What’s the most important choice you would’ve had to make?
    • What would you have needed to learn along the way?
    • What important actions would you have had to take?
    • What beliefs would you have needed to change?
    • What habits or behaviors would you have had to cultivate?
    • What type of support would you have had to enlist?
    • How long will it have taken you to realize your best life?
    • What steps or milestones would you have needed to reach along the way?

    Now it’s time to think about your first step, and the next step after that. Ponder the gap between where you are now and where you want to be in the future. It may seem impossible, but it’s quite achievable if you take it step-by-step.

    It’s important to revisit this vision from time to time. Don’t be surprised if your answers to the questions, your technicolor vision, and the resulting plans change. That can actually be a very good thing; as you change in unforeseeable ways, the best life you envision will change as well. For now, it’s important to use the process, create your vision, and take the first step towards making that vision a reality.

    Featured photo credit: Matt Noble via unsplash.com

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