Looking to get on your bike this spring? We take a closer look at the numerous mental health benefits of cycling, from stress relief to improved sleep…

Words: Alison Hardinge | Images: Shutterstock

Could cycling be the answer to stress relief? Regular exercise definitely helps improve your physical fitness. However, as we’ve all come to realise and appreciate over the past couple of years, it also has a range of benefits for your mental health too. The NHS recommends that adults take 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise a week to stay healthy. But so many of us spend the majority of our time sat at a desk, and even the walk to work is now a distant memory for some as lots of people work remotely.

So, when it comes to mental wellbeing, making time for physical exercise you enjoy is more important than ever. All types of movement are going to contribute to your overall wellbeing, but have you considered cycling? If you’re already a fan, you’ll know how great it can feel whizzing along with the wind in your face, feeling at one with the elements – in a way you can never truly experience in a car. Check out these 5 mental health benefits of cycling, from stress relief to improved sleep…

5 mental health benefits of cycling

cycling mental health benefits stress relief

1. Cycling boosts your endorphins and helps with stress relief

The first mental health benefit of taking up cycling is the most obvious: it’s great exercise. You may have heard of a runner’s high and the same applies to cycling. ‘The work your body puts in during a long bike ride releases dopamine, serotonin and adrenaline into your brain, which can help drastically boost your mood,’ says James Finch, from Hunt Bike Wheels.

This is one of the many reasons the NHS offers exercise on prescription as part of a treatment plan for people suffering with physical and mental health issues, including mild to moderate cases of depression and anxiety. If you’re feeling overwhelmed in your work or personal life, cycling provides a range of stress relief benefits for your mental health and wellbeing.

‘As well as kicking your brain’s mood-boosting chemicals into gear, regular cycling helps you physically feel strong, fit and energised, which can have a huge impact on your quality of life,’ says James. Giving yourself extra time to bike to and from work is a great way to incorporate this into your day. Your company may even offer a cycle-to-work scheme, so be sure to make the most of this if you can.

Thinking of cycling to work more often? Then an e-bike might be for you. ‘Electric bikes are particularly useful if you intend on using one as a regular mode of transport, rather than for leisure,’ says Matt Flanagan, CEO of E-Bikes Direct, which saw sales of its e-bikes rise 400 per cent just in the second half of last year. ‘You can cover much longer distances on an electric bike, and with less effort than it would take using a manual one,’ he adds.

2. You can connect with nature while riding your bike

Sometimes, if your thoughts become overwhelming or you have a problem to grapple with, you need alone time to process things. Cycling creates the perfect opportunity to head off into the fresh air and be with your thoughts, letting your legs do the work while your mind mulls things over. Connecting with nature has long been recognised as having a range of mental health benefits, including stress relief, making cycling outdoors a great choice.

‘It won’t just take one ride to make you feel better, but this kind of outlet for quiet reflection is an incredibly valuable resource to have when your mind gets a little too loud,’ says James. Spending time outdoors is proven to be incredibly beneficial to your mental wellbeing, with programmes such as ecotherapy or green exercise therapy becoming more widely available to those struggling.

Whether you live in an urban area or are lucky enough to have lots of green space around you, getting out from the same four walls can help give you a sense of perspective, and riding through your local area can reacquaint you with people and places you may not have seen for a long time.

3. Cycling creates a sense of community

On the flip side to the alone time, cycling can also introduce some much-needed socialising into your life, which you may have been lacking. ‘We’ve all been missing out on real, meaningful connections, and some of us have felt this more keenly than others,’ says James. Wherever you live, there is bound to be a local or online community of cyclists that’s waiting to welcome you.

While this may seem daunting at first, if you feel ready to broaden your social circle, then cycling groups are an amazing way to build connections while doing exercise that helps lower your day-to-day stress levels. ‘Riding alongside someone on a long route can open the opportunity for conversations you didn’t even know you needed and finishing off the last hill of a tough ride bonds you together through a feeling of shared achievement,’ adds James.

cycling mental health benefits stress relief

4. Cycling gives you drive and purpose

Humans need structure and some sense of meaning, and this is even more important for those with mental health issues. ‘Training to reach a personal best or participating in a charity cycling event gives you a goal to work towards, and cultivating this kind of focus on your bike gives you a real sense of achievement that may just help you in other areas of life,’ says James.

‘Coming together with fellow cyclists and raising money would not only be a great end goal to keep you motivated, but raising awareness for a charity that means something to you is also rewarding.’ Because of their very nature – often setup to raise funds for people suffering –these charity cycling events encourage conversation around topics we would all benefit from discussing, for example, dealing with loss, illness or mental health. Knowing that you have helped someone who is suffering in the same way you might have done is something very special.

The websites cycleforcharity.com and timeoutdoors.com list charity rides around the UK.

5. Sleep better thanks to the mental health benefits of cycling

While it might seem like exercise could initially drain you, energy-wise, incorporating regular activity can actually boost your energy levels throughout the day. And while you might feel mentally tired from your day job, if your body hasn’t had a workout and isn’t also tired, you may not sleep as well. ‘If you’ve been active throughout the day, you’ll often sleep better at night,’ says James.

‘Getting the recommended eight hours’ sleep a night is crucial for fostering better mental health. You’ll find that incorporating a brisk ride in the fresh air does wonders for helping you drift off into a deeper sleep at the end of the day,’ says James.

Related: Cycling plan – cycle your way from couch to 30k!