Cyclists know the physical benefits of the sport: heart-pumping aerobic exercise, leg-toning and strengthening and increased endurance. But you may not know that one of the reasons cyclists love their sport is because of the positive effect it has on their mental and emotional well-being.
Psychologists know that there are certain attributes that happy people possess. For example, it’s a well-researched fact that people who are more social are happier than people who spend a lot of time by themselves, whether by choice or necessity. The fact that cycling tends to be a social sport is one of the reasons cyclists tend to be happy people. Here are some others:
Good Physical Health Leads to Good Mental Health
Cyclists who are really serious about their sport tend to be health-conscious people who not only get plenty of exercise, but also eat a diet aimed at increasing endurance and performance. Cycling also provides great aerobic exercise, which psychologists agree boosts mood and reduces stress and anxiety, leading to better mental health.
People Who Cycle to Their Destinations Are Happier
A 2014 study by researchers at Clemson University and the University of Pennsylvania confirmed what many cyclists already believed – riding a bike as a way of commuting, as your sport of choice, or just for fun, makes you happier. The study, which used the American Time Use Survey, collected by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, showed that cyclists had a significantly better demeanor than those who drove cars, were passengers in cars, or took public transit to their destinations.
Pursuing Goals Gives People a Sense of Purpose
Cyclists tend to set goals based on improving their performance, whether it’s going farther than they have before, making better time on a well-established route, or mastering a tough hill. Research shows that goal-setting gives us something to purse, and pursuing our goals makes us feel better about ourselves and our lives.
Spending Time in “Flow” Creates a Sense of Well-Being
Flow is what happens when we’re so deeply engaged in something, that we lose track of time, and some have described flow as the secret to happiness. It’s living in the moment for more than a moment, and it’s when we tend to feel most alive! Cycling requires being fully engaged such as paying attention to speed, traffic, pothole hazards, and increasing pedaling effort when called for, all of which brings the cyclist into flow.
Recreation is Restorative
If you break down the word “recreation”, you get re-creation. When we’re truly “recreating” as cyclists who love the sport, we’re restoring ourselves in the truest sense of the word. So even though you’re dead-tired after a long ride, you’re also restored. You’ll sleep better, an essential part of happiness and well-being, and you’ll feel better for having accomplished what you set out to do.
Finding Meaning in Life is Key to Happiness
How many times have you seen bike rides connected to charities? The great thing about cycling is that you can do something you enjoy while simultaneously working for the common good by taking a “ride for cancer” (the Tour de Cure), or for another worthy cause. Helping others makes us feel good, yes — even happy!
The (Brain) Science of Cycling
Several new studies have found that cycling improves the way the brain works by increasing the size of several important brain structures that make people think faster, remember more and feel happier. Another study, published in 2015 in the Journal of Diabetes Complications, found that after cycling for 12 weeks, participants not only became fitter, but also saw a boost in brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), a protein that regulates stress, mood and memory.
The evidence backs up the buzz — cycling for happiness is a real thing, just as real as exercising and dieting for a healthier weight and a toned body! So strap on your helmet, fill up your water bottle and get cycling!