Study after study has show that working out helps reduce the negative health effects of stress. Fit fit people are better able to handle the long-term effects of stress, without risking burnout.
Get on that bike
And although all physical exercise is healthy, biking has a special place as a stress-relieving activity.
As a matter of fact, the repetitive action of pedalling involved in cycling can help your brain release stress in a way that is comparable to meditation. By focusing on your pedal stoke you can block out other worries and stresses of the day, giving your brain a break from all of your daily problems.
Rhythm and Oxygen
And above all, when it comes to rhythm, cycling knows no equal.
Stress makes your heart beat faster, which leads to shallow, fast breathing, a build-up of CO2, and a lack of oxygen in the brain, leading to even more stress.
Cycling, on the other hand, forces you to regulate your breathing. To breathe deeper, to expel any lingering CO2 —both key methods used to alleviate stress in non-riders, so you’re practising proven clinical techniques.
Ride, work, ride, repeat
Every morning Canadian neuroscientist Brian Christie, gives his brain an extra boost. We're not talking about tossing back multiple strong shots of espresso (even though even those can alleviate stress, as can be read in our article: Decaffeinated Stress).
"I hop on my bike, go to the gym for 45 minutes, then ride the rest of the way to work," says Christie. "When I get to my desk, my brain is at peak activity for a few hours." After his mental focus sputters to a halt later in the day, he jump-starts it with another short spin to run errands.
Ride, work, ride, repeat.
It's a scientifically proven system. In a recent study in the Journal of Clinical and Diagnostic Research, scientists found that people scored higher on tests of memory, reasoning, and planning after 30 minutes of spinning on a stationary bike than they did before they rode. They also completed the tests faster after pedaling.
Why? More blood flow —and, in turn, oxygen— to your brain, fires and regenerates receptors, explaining how exercise helps stay healthy, says Arthur Kramer, Neuroscientist at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. And a bigger, more connected brain works better.
Recipe for Happiness
Of course, there's a lot more to mental fitness than just improving your smarts. Plenty of science backs the idea that a good ride can also have emotional benefits. Cycling can elevate your mood, relieve anxiety, increase stress resistance, and even banish the blues.
"Exercise works as well as psychotherapy and antidepressants in the treatment of depression, maybe better," says James Blumenthal, Professor of Behavioral Medicine in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina. A recent study analyzing 26 years of research finds that even just some exercise—as little as 20 to 30 minutes a day—can prevent depression over the long term.
Is there also too much exercise?
Actually, from the perspective of memory and stress relief, there is something like too much exercise. Too little and your brain doesn't get what it needs to work optimally. Too much and your body has sapped the glucose and other resources it needs, so it's hindered until it recovers.
What's the cycling recipe for happiness?
Brian Christie reveals: The sweet spot for sharp mental acuity right after exercise is about 30 to 60 minutes of aerobic riding at roughly 75 percent of your maximum heart rate, or an effort of 7 on a scale of 1 (standing still) to 10 (going all out).