5 Mental Health Benefits Of Cycling That’ll Make You Fall In Love With This Workout
If you've ever been in a bad mood and decided to hit up your favorite instructor's SoulCycle class to cheer yourself up, then you know the feel-good vibes that come with cycling are like no other. Or maybe you hop on your bike to commute to work each day, and you use those few minutes of alone time on the road to clear your head. Either way, the mental health benefits of cycling, whether it be in a music-filled studio or alongside a busy highway, are absolutely incredible, and prove that there are so many reasons to try this workout that have nothing to do with stronger muscles (though that's certainly a nice perk, too).
What's especially amazing about cycling is that it doesn't even take that long to notice the effects this workout can have on your mental health. A small 2015 study published in the Journal of Diabetes Complications showed that people who did cycling workouts for just 12 weeks developed significant amounts of something called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), which is a protein that's responsible for the regulation of your mood, stress levels, and memory. In other words, hitting up a cycling class at your local gym, or biking outdoors when it's nice AF outside, can do way more for your brain and body outside of strengthening your leg muscles. Over time, this workout could literally change your brain chemistry, and as a result, it could help you deal with stress and mood swings in much healthier ways.
Elite Daily spoke with two passionate cycling instructors to get all the best details on what this workout really does for your mental health. Trust me, once you learn about these incredible benefits, it's all uphill from there (pun intended — sorry).
1. Cycling Helps Relieve Stress
Cycling on the reg allows your body to regulate cortisol and adrenaline, which are hormones that, when in balance, can help you manage and handle stress in healthy ways. Kym Perfetto, a Premier Protein ambassador and master instructor at SoulCycle, confirms these stress-reducing properties in an interview with Elite Daily: "It's a calming activity in that it allows your brain to focus," she says. "Breathing and pedaling become the priority instead of the millions of distractions that enter your mind every minute."
Perfetto also notes that commuting by bike can help you avoid any road rage you might otherwise deal with when sitting in traffic, and it saves you money on gas and parking, thus alleviating some financial stress, too. I'll cycle to that.
2. It Improves Your Mood
According to Lifehack, cycling legit makes you a happier human by increasing the levels of serotonin and dopamine (aka happy hormones) produced in your brain. Karen Maxwell, an ISSA-certified sports science nutritionist, former D1 athlete, and a top master instructor for CycleBar, swears by the post-cycling feeling of ecstasy. "The endorphins combined with the music is an instant mood-booster," Maxwell tells Elite Daily. "The premium surround-sound allows you to completely surrender to the music, drowning out any outside worries."
As far as Maxwell is concerned, even if you walk into a cycling class feeling anxious or stressed out, "you will leave feeling like a weight has been lifted." And sometimes, when you've had a rough day, that's exactly what you need in a workout.
3. Cycling Boosts Your Self-Esteem
Generally speaking, a regular workout routine can give you a major self-esteem boost, but according to Maxwell, cycling in particular really contributes to those glorious feelings of self-confidence. "[The cycling studio I teach at] is a judgment-free zone, so we really encourage our riders to be themselves and be OK with who they are and how they look," she tells Elite Daily.
With each class she teaches, Maxwell says, she strives to enhance every single rider's individuality by reminding them that wherever they are on their fitness journey, is nothing short of perfect. "We promote inclusion and have zero tolerance for anything less," she explains.
4. It Can Literally Change Your Brain Chemistry
Squeezing in a quality sweat sesh each day can literally change your brain in the best way possible. So if cycling is your jam, keep doin' your thing girlfriend, because your brain will thank you. What's more, Maxwell says cardiovascular exercise is actually just as important for your brain as it is for your heart — something that many people might not initially recognize. "The blood flow to your brain [during cycling] improves mood, memory, and protects your brain from the effects of aging," she tells Elite Daily.
The CycleBar instructor also references a 2010 study published in the journal Neurology to prove her point, which directly links cardiovascular exercise with a significant decrease in your chance of developing dementia. Clearly, Maxwell knows what she's talking about, and the science doesn't lie, people.
5. It Could Be Especially Great For People With Anxiety
Working out can be an amazing way to ease some of the struggles associated with mental health conditions that affect so many. Along with medication prescribed by your doctor and other forms of therapy that work for you, Perfetto says cycling might be a great, supplemental coping tool for people who have anxiety.
"For me, cycling soothes my anxiety," she tells Elite Daily. "I feel in-tune with my body and my surroundings. But I also use cycling for exercise, which is scientifically proven to improve mood, as cardio increases serotonin in the body."
So yes, as much as cycling studios can sometimes seem like overhyped cults, the benefits of this workout, both physical and mental, are simply too good to pass up.