Article: Jenny Holt  |  Photo: Hector Martinez

How Cycling Can Help Combat Depression

11% of Canadians between the ages of 15 to 25 have experienced depression at some point in their lives but less than half have tried to get help. Now, more than ever, it is vital to take any and all steps to defeat this condition, and cycling is a great way to treat it. Whilst the number of Canadians cycling is at an absolute all time high the percentage of Canadians who are getting on their bikes has been dropping in recent years. Many Canadians fear for their safety on our roads and prefer to stay bundled up during the harsh winters. Of course not all Canadians are as lucky as those in Hamilton who have the National Cycling Centre on their doorstep. The centre has the exceptional state of the art indoor facility that allows visitors to take virtual rides on their own bikes in comfort.

What the experts say

The British National Health Service prescribes exercise as part of a holistic approach to tackling mood disorders and overcoming depression. So why would this service recommend that their patients “get on their bikes”? And what can other countries across the world learn from this advice?

The benefits of cycling

There is more to cycling than just the direct physical health benefits. Studies have shown that even just 20 minutes of moderate cycling can relieve the symptoms of anxiety and stress. Bicycling can sharpen your thinking and improve your mood. A cycle ride (even an indoor virtual ride) gives you time to clear your thoughts and focus only on the task at hand. In order to get the most out of cycling you need to be mindful and live truly in the moment. This approach instantly helps to calm a troubled mind. In order to ensure that you remain focused and alert it is advised that you use caffeine as a preworkout aid. Exercise releases hormones that are only mimicked by antidepressants and instantly start to stave off depression and anxiety. The endorphin rush from a good ride combined with the near meditative nature of it helps with the double whammy of tackling depression and sharpening thinking.

Don’t forget the long term

Quick fixes and short term benefits are one thing but it is the long term benefits that really pay off. The hormonal releases from cycling have a positive feedback effect on the body. The more you do the greater the effect it will have. As you become fitter you take on longer rides which in turn allows you to become more mindful which improves your ability to focus your mind. In time all of these benefits are joined by the rush that comes with a more positive self-image. Remember that even moderate amounts of cycling can make a huge difference to your mental health by clearing your head and preventing depression. In short: Get on your bike!