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How mental health impacts your physical performance on the bike and vice versa

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May marked Mental Health Awareness Month, a time to reflect, research, discuss and perhaps even discover a little more about ourselves and our mental health. It’s often said that mental and physical health are one and the same and this is certainly true when we are in the midst of a particularly difficult patch on the bike. In this article, we look at how mental health affects our time on two wheels and vice versa.

How does my mental health affect my cycling?

 There are many ways in which our mental health will affect physical performance. As cyclists, we are keen to research, train and improve from any physical injuries, without delving deeper and finding that the real injury may be to our mental health.

Poor mental health is often a cycle that at first seems hard to break but is one that can immediately affect your cycling. As Mental Health UK detail, low motivation for doing hobbies is often sign of a problem and can markedly affect your energy going into training and rides, meaning that you will be slower on the bike as well as having trouble concentrating on making plans and structuring workouts. Lastly, you’re far less likely to seek any help for the problem the longer you are in a rut.

Being aware of this on those cold, wet, long days in the saddle is crucial. In short, your mental health will impact your ability to ride and race as much as a physical injury would.

 How does cycling help my mental health?

Cycling is arguably a sport where our mental health can be improved as quickly as it is affected. There is nothing quite like riding in the open air, under the sun and out in the elements with friends. Even if you don’t think about your mental health that much, you understand the positive affect that a good ride can have on your mindset. Mind, one of the UK’s leading mental health charities, lay out many of the ways in which physical activity can improve our mental health.

Many studies have shown that cycling will release the natural hormone ‘endorphins’ that make you feel good and improve your mood. No matter if it’s a training ride, race or a simple commute, this feeling can do a lot for us over the day, including improving our moods and self-esteem as well as our energy and productivity levels. This goes a long way to improving our mental health at home and at work.

Cycling also allows us to manage stress and anxiety, as breaking away from a situation, going out for a ride and focusing on something other than what is occupying your mind can be an incredibly effective coping strategy during difficult times. Finally, the communities we find out on our bike make a huge difference. Sharing a passion with a mate and even making new friends through the sport makes a big impact on mental health.

Taking a break

 Although it may seem like cycling and sport is the answer to all our troubles, and studies have shown that it reduces the risk of depression, it isn’t always going to be helpful to everyone’s mental health. There are many brave examples from professional athletes such as Tom Dumoulin, Ben Stokes, Simone Biles and Naomi Osaka – to name just a few – who show how mental health even affects the very best and the positive impacts in the long term that taking a break can have.

You may find that cycling works wonders some days but on others it feels like a chore. As with many things, beginning to obsess about a sport like cycling can also lead to a negative impact on your health, as making too many comparisons could lead to overtraining which in turn brings its own issue.

Therefore, striking a balance, taking a break from the bike at times and finding what works for your own mental health, is far more helpful in the long term so that when you get back to swinging your leg over the bike, you reap those endorphin-kicking rewards.

Mental Health Awareness month may be a good time to talk about mental health, but it is something we should look after every day and help others close to use with as well. It’s important to note that there isn’t just one simple fix for everyone though. What we can do this month though, is celebrate the power of the bicycle in bringing people together and boosting both our physical and mental wellbeing. So, the next time you’re out with your ride mates, take the time to check in with them and share with each other the benefits of cycling.

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