Biking beats the black dog
For some folk, getting out on their mountain bike can be a lifeline. It’s the thing that preserves positivity and staves off depression and bad thoughts.
This week (May 13-19) is Mental Health Awareness Week. It’s set up to help discuss mental health and to help end mental health discrimination.
Watch: Top 10 super cheap mountain bike hacks
Get dirty, get happy
As mountain bikers we all know that mountain biking is good for our mind as well as our body. We’re never sad or negative after a ride. We’re always glad we got out for a ride.
Conversely, if we’re deprived of the opportunity to get out for a ride for longer than we’d like, we go… wrong. Surely I’m not the only one who kind of dreads going on a fortnight’s holiday without my bike no matter how delightful the destination is?
Being moody and grumpy is the very least we can expect if we haven’t ridden for a while. Sometimes, and for some people, however this grumpiness can slide into outright feelings of overwhelming despair and sadness as our dirt-deprived brain misfires and unleashes all kinds of pointless pessimism.
There is something about cycling in general that appeals to certain type of person prone to depression. A lot of us will be using our bike rides to keep the Black Dog at bay, whether we realise it or not.
Why is mountain biking so good?
So what exactly is it about mountain biking that is good for mental health?
We’ve already covered mountain biking is the best form of exercise about the mainly physical benefits of mountain biking. But did you know that there is plenty of evidence that it’s good for the mind as well.
Exercise that releases endorphins is proven to stave off depression. According to The Mayo Clinic, exercise also lowers certain chemical in our immune system that contribute to worsening depressive tendencies.
Mountain biking is social. Even if you only ever ride alone you’re a likely a part of the online cycling community. And in the ‘real’ world, going for a bike ride is often a highly social activity. It’s when you meet your mates. It’s when you have a laugh. It’s when you interact most fully and unguarded with other human beings.
Mountain biking is good for self-image. Even if you never get any KOMs and get on any Strava leaderboards, if you impressed yourself with how you rode today, that rosy glow will last for a long time.
Nature and Type I fun
A lot of the above attributes can be said for almost any exercise. It’s a fair cop. But there are two aspects of mountain biking that, when combined with the above factors, make it pretty much the perfect activity for engendering positivity.
Firstly, just being immersed in a natural surroundings is good for human brains. In 2015 Stanford University studied how people felt after a 50 minute walk in a natural environment versus a 50 minute walk in a city. Those who walked through a forest experienced less anxiety and greater positive emotions.
Did you know that in Japan in the early 1980s a national health plan, called ‘forest bathing’, was instigated. This is basically just being in the presence of trees. The practice has been proven to lower blood pressure, reduce stress hormones and improve feelings of wellbeing.
Secondly, we have that most-overhyped M-word of the modern world. Yep, mindfulness. Mindfulness is the physiological process of bringing your attention to experiences happening in the present moment. It’s different to being ‘in the zone’ (which is more like a state of automatic state of pure reflex and skill).
Heck, mountain biking is ALL about mindfulness. If you’re not in the moment, you crash. Unlike road cycling for example which has a high degree of ‘Type II fun’ (ie. it’s fun when it’s over), mountain biking is also about having fun right there and then. It’s immediate. When mountain biking you are enjoying the feelings as it happens right there and then.
Mountain biking > mortgage payments
There are no worries about mortgage payments or North Korea or Brexit or your kids’ futures when you’re hustling down singletrack. The trail feedback and the decisions on what to do about them are all consuming. Perfect distraction.
If you’re anything like me, your outlook in general bucks up after a mountain bike ride. The doom and fear factory of the news gets put into perspective. It makes you remember the good things. It makes you think that yeah, things probably will be alright. It could be worse. It has been worse. A lot worse.
PLUS we also then get the benefit of ‘Type II fun’ when the ride ends. Truly a win-win situation.
It’s good to talk
Want to read more about mental health? Visit time-to-change.org.uk
As banal and trite as it may say sound, Just Get Out And Ride.