What would you say if I told you I found a miracle treatment for stress, anxiety, depression, and a number of other ailments? A treatment that’s scientific, and proven through peer-reviewed research?
Would you want to have it prescribed?
I’ve long believed that cycling is not only good for my body, but also for my mental health, and I know of several others who feel the same way.
As it happens, cycling in a green environment is particularly good for your mental health, and there is a piece of solid, peer-reviewed research on specifically on this subject, published by James Beale and Oliver Glackin.
What the paper means by a green environment, or specifically, green cycling, is cycling in a rural area, away from cityscapes. The paper goes on to state “green-cycling served to enhance the participants’ sense of wellbeing and in doing so helped them cope with the mental challenges associated with their lives“.
Can you think of anything else that achieves that so uniformly?
In their paper, Beale and Glackin say Green Exercise (GE for short) is “physical activity conducted whilst simultaneously engaging the natural environment”. They continue to say “Physical activity has been evidenced as making a material improvement to individual’s mental health – both in well populations (Harvey et al. 2010) and amongst those suffering from diagnosed mental illnesses (e.g. Zschucke et al. 2013). However, research shows how acute bouts of GE are substantially more beneficial to psychological wellbeing than the same exercise carried out indoors or in built outdoor environments“.
This last statement has profound impacts for cyclists who opt to do the bulk of their riding indoors, on turbo trainers. Oh, indoor exercise is undoubtedly better – both for physical and mental health – than no exercise, but the science is clear: the greatest benefit is gained by exercising outside, in a green environment, away from a built-up environment.
Some people simply don’t have the choice of going for regular, long rides in the countryside, and I’m not for a moment trying to criticise them in the slightest. Instead, I am trying to sway those who can engage in green exercise, but choose to ride either indoors, or within cities, to do ride in a green environment more often than before.
Specifically, green exercise leads to further increases in self-esteem and mood, greater alleviation of depression, more psychological restoration, additional stress reduction, and a lessening of anxiety. If you could combine those benefits into a prescription pill, you will be hailed a hero who created a miracle drug!
While you’re here, why not go have a look at my unique T-shirts? The designs are also available on hoodies, mugs, and even baby clothes.
In their paper called The world is best experienced at 18 mph, Beale and Glackin reference the research of others, in addition to their own. The research is based on male road cyclists, ranging in age between 34 and 52, though I know of no reason why the findings wouldn’t also hold true for female cyclists.
Interestingly, one of the study’s subjects is also a runner, and indicated that, although running may be a more time-intensive method of exercise, runners don’t seem to get the same psychological benefits that cyclists do.
All of the subjects spoke of a sense of achievement and joy they get from road cycling, and about how green-cycling encouraged a relaxed psychological state.
The paper finds that cycling in the countryside is an activity that, when done alone, was routinely enhanced by the experience, and that in itself is telling. Many of you reading this will identify with that feeling of pure bliss, when mind and machine become one, on a long solo ride.
This research confirms what I long suspected – that cycling is good for your mental health, and cycling in the countryside is especially good for you.
My advice is simple: get off Zwift regularly, and go ride outside. Yes, even in the rain, and the cold. You will reap enormous benefits, and I think deep down you know it.