UEA Velo cycling club member & English Literature student Alastair White offers insight into why cycling could perhaps be the perfect medicine for balancing a stressful (student) life…
The words ‘stress’ and ‘anxiety’ can become increasingly prevalent to those in both working and university environments. For some, a complete change in lifestyle could be key in counteracting the strains of a working/studying schedule. Luckily for us, there is hope in the form of the humble bicycle. Very little compares to cycling in its ability to compliment and adapt to your busy schedule, whilst boasting benefits to mental well-being and alleviating work-based stress. Could cycling be the antibiotics to your hectic week?
We all tend to over complicate what we think it takes to be content within ourselves, but there are a few basic foundations to happiness, and a bike ride with your friends gives you most of them before you make it to lunch. Cycling offers exercise in the great outdoors for one, proven to be more beneficial to mental health than any indoor counterparts. It also offers a great social opportunity; a place to catch up with friends and make new ones. It provides a safe and supportive environment in which to confide in others, share problems and, crucially, leave everyday life behind, even if it is just for a few hours.
I often wonder if all we need is a Sunday morning out on the bike with our friends, followed by an afternoon of well-earned coffee, cake, and guilt free lounging on the sofa. It is a very simple kind of happiness. A time when the benefits to our mental health become infinitely more tangible, and anxious thoughts feel as though they have been washed away by the simple joys of life.
Meditation and Positive Isolation
The meditative properties of cycling are well documented, allowing the brain to switch off and focus solely on breathing, cadence, and that chocolate fudge cake awaiting you at the cafe. The rhythm of a steady cadence, in fact, has been proven to have noticeable benefits on memory, reasoning, and, comprehension. A study by Adam Martin, a UEA Research Fellow, titled “Does active commuting improve psychological well-being?”, found that likelihood of strain and reduced concentration was 13% lower when commuters used active travel, such as cycling, rather than driving.
As a University Student who seems to struggle understanding anything vaguely related to my degree, this is a tantalising prospect. If work becomes overwhelming, I jump on a bicycle, and use the pedal-powered miracle to mull it over at my own pace. It often gives me time to understand something that had me completely stumped in my desk chair. And, of course, taking agency over these bustling thoughts, simplifying and organising them, gives a sense of control over your life that makes the stress just melt away.
Even busy commuters are able to reap cycling’s mental benefits. Adam Martin’s study showed that changing from driving to an active commute was 240% more effective for psychological well-being than an equivalent change to public transport. Unfortunately, the most direct route for many might be along busy roads or inevitably the biggest hill in the city; but try planning a longer ride that circumvents these busy roads and big climbs along quieter, pleasant side-streets, as “the potential benefits available to car drivers if they switched to active travel… exceed any potential benefits associated with reducing commuting time”. You may have to wake up earlier, but the improvements to your well-being may be worth it, and with a more positive outlook going into every day, you won’t wish for another hour in bed, but instead you’ll look forward to a day of productivity and positivity.
Cycling is a beautiful sport open to anyone, adaptable to any lifestyle, and almost unbeatable in its therapeutic qualities. For me, taking up cycling at university rapidly and very dramatically, changed my life for the better. Not much can beat its sense of empowerment, as you speed off to anywhere you desire on just a banana and a bowl of cornflakes. I for one rarely feel more content than on a day that has been blessed by a bicycle.