Ride a bike and get happiness

You already know cycling is great for your physical fitness. But did you know it also has profound effects on your brain? We did some digging and chatted with experts to find out exactly how.

Staves Off Depression
“Clearly exercise is beneficial for mental health, and the area that we have the strongest evidence in is depression,” explains Brandon Alderman, Ph.D., an assistant professor of exercise psychophysiology at Rutgers University. A recent study at the University of Bern suggests that physical activity leads to nearly the same neurophysiologic changes as antidepressants.

Calms Your Mind
“Over the past two years, we’ve been conducting a large study looking at aerobic exercise and meditation,” Alderman says. Test subjects in the study did a combo of meditation and exercise, in the form of spinning on a stationary bike followed by a short meditation session. Then Alderman and his team analyzed the effects on their mental well-being.

The outcome was exactly what he expected: Subjects moved from clinical to nonclinical levels of depression. “That’s huge,” Alderman says, ”and it happened in just eight weeks.”

 

Boosts Brainpower
Think about a typical ride and everything that goes through your head, consciously or unconsciously: how to negotiate that gravelly corner, bunny hop that log, or navigate your way home on unfamiliar roads. It’s like doing Sudoku, but at warp speed—which is great for keeping your brain healthy.

So how does that make you smarter? Simple. Using your brain in these different ways while riding, Alderman explains, “results in increased cognitive control, and stimulates the parts [of the brain] that regulate executive function, decision making, things like that.”

This isn’t a new idea, by any stretch: work done by Charles Hillman at the University of Illinois in 2007 showed that exercise boosts brainpower and helps to stave off Alzheimer’s in older people, while parallel work being done at the University of Georgia by Phil Tomporowski showed that kids are even more positively impacted—and that exercise can help control issues like ADD.

Makes You Friendlier
“One key aspect for brain health is that you need to have a social life,” Alderman says. “You need to socialize with other people. I think when people are depressed, they don’t get out, they don’t do anything. It impacts their confidence and self-esteem. And if you exercise, you get out, and you have an opportunity to interact with other people, especially if they exercise outside.”

Commit to a Better You
Ready to make some lasting changes? Start small with something like a ride streak—simply put, the act of getting after it every day, no matter what.

How to ride on icy roads

 

  • Pick your road carefully – stick to those that have been treated
  • Be wary of exposed sections of road – the wind chill can create extra ice
  • Go around icy patches if you have time and it’s safe to do so
  • if you can’t avoid the ice, don’t make any sudden moves – try to ride it out

Lingering frost or black ice can catch anyone unawares, especially given that crisp winter days and blue skies are so inviting for a bracing ride. Stunning cloudless days go hand in hand with sub-zero nights. And when the sun does come up it stays low in the sky and relatively weak, with long shadows.

One of the biggest causes of black ice is when a big freeze follows a partial thaw, so that rain water or melt water is frozen before it can drain off the road completely, leaving a thin layer of transparent ice.

If you’re riding in these conditions, pick your road carefully and stick to those that have been treated. Of course, the downside to this is that many councils put a water dispersal agent down with the salt, and after a few days this too can be slippy.

Shadier sections of road will be the last to thaw out

Be particularly wary of the more exposed sections of road, such as where there are no hedges – the wind chill will have further cooled the tarmac there – and always keep your eyes on the road ahead so you’re prepared for icy hazards, going round them if you have time and it’s safe to do so.

If you’re about to hit ice then don’t do anything sudden – don’t turn the bar too fast or far or lean the bike, and don’t brake hard or suddenly. Of course, if you hit black ice on a downhill corner, all you can do is hope for a soft landing…