Talk to anyone who cycles regularly, and they’ll likely enjoy telling you how good getting on their bike feels. Aptly named “cycle therapy” by many in the community, cycling comes with an onslaught of benefits for your mental and physical well-being. But why does it feel so good after cycling?
Here are 9 reasons why you feel so good after cycling:
- Your body releases neurochemicals and endorphins.
- It reduces stress.
- It boosts your self-esteem.
- It alleviates depression and anxiety symptoms.
- Cycling outdoors exposes you to fresh air and nature.
- It exercises the body and the brain.
- Casual cycling is a low-impact exercise.
- Your cycling routines are kind to the planet.
- Cycling is a social and therapeutic activity.
Let’s dive a little deeper into each reason to learn more about how and why cycling brings on these feelings.
1. Your Body Releases Neurochemicals and Endorphins
Neurotransmitters are known for being the messengers for your body. Their primary function is to tell your body how to feel and react in any given situation. These molecules will relay messages between neurons and the neurons to your muscles.
The most straightforward, no-nonsense reason why cycling makes you feel so good is that the act of exercising releases specific neurotransmitters throughout your body. Dopamine and serotonin are the two main molecules released during exercise.
Serotonin, nicknamed “the happiness hormone,” gives you that lasting feeling of contentment after your ride, along with the “afterglow” in your face after cycling. Generally, it plays a significant role in your sleep ability, memory, appetite, and mood, among other things.
Meanwhile, dopamine is released during your ride. It makes you feel focused and good while riding and helps strengthen your muscle reaction time. In general, dopamine is responsible for your general motor function, motivation, and the brain’s reward/reinforcement center.
Along with these two neurotransmitters, the body also releases norepinephrine and anandamide. Norepinephrine is responsible for helping you process information as well as the feeling of suspended time while you’re riding, whereas anandamide acts similarly to marijuana, giving you the feeling of euphoria.
The release of anandamide in cyclists makes this an extremely beneficial activity to those who struggle with addiction. Several cyclists in the community have shared their stories of addiction struggle and claim that cycling has, in a way, saved them.
2. It Reduces Stress
Stress has the potential to negatively affect your sleeping habits, your mood, and your physical health. While it’s good to feel some pressure, many of us carry too much of it, and the outcome is dreary. Luckily, exercise has been proven to reduce stress as the body reduces the levels of stress-inducing chemicals like adrenaline and cortisol.
As mentioned above, releasing dopamine, serotonin, and other neurotransmitters makes the body feel at ease. Each brain chemical works together to figure out what is wrong with the body and ways to bring your nervous system back to equilibrium.
As they work to calm the body down (physically and mentally), the level of stress you’re feeling will decrease alongside it. When the neurochemical anandamide is released, it can feel meditative and soothing.
Meditation has the power to send the body into ultimate relaxation, and it helps clear the mind. However, it means something different to everyone.
It may seem ridiculous to think meditation and cycling can be the same thing. A person may feel more at ease with the world while cycling than they do any other time.
Another additional benefit of reduced stress through cycling is that it’s proven to increase your libido. The increase in your sex drive scientifically chalks up to the increased blood flow you experience from your ride. It’s worth noting that studies that found this have only shown this to be true among males.
Of the men studied who experienced sexual dysfunction, the leading cause stemmed from having weak heart muscle.
3. It Boosts Your Self-Esteem
Not only does cycling reduce your stress levels, but it has the potential to make you feel more confident, too. The International Journal of Exercise Science published a study that found 10 people’s self-esteem, after being inactive, significantly improved after ten short sessions. These sessions added up to roughly 5 hours of exercise total.
Let’s explore some of the ways your self-esteem improves through cycling:
- Weight-loss: A typical person may burn anywhere between 450-750 calories per hour on a bicycle. While weight shouldn’t be the main focus of your health journey, cycling helps boost your confidence as you see yourself getting slimmer.
- Muscle toning: Much like weight loss, a person may feel more physically confident as they visibly see the changes their body goes through.
- The regular release of brain chemicals: When your body consistently releases neurotransmitters like dopamine and serotonin, you’re more likely to be in a good mood. This good mood results in you seeing yourself in a more positive light as well.
- Building confidence: As you get more and more confident on your bike, you’ll start to see your potential. Once you start believing in yourself, you may start pushing yourself further.
- Mental health booster: Low self-esteem is a common side effect that stems from mental illness. Studies show that cycling significantly reduces mental illness’s negative feelings, so your self-esteem will grow as you cycle more often.
4. It Alleviates Depression and Anxiety Symptoms
Physical activity, in general, is considered a natural antidepressant. Its antidepressant qualities are likely because it works as a stress reducer.
A detailed analysis of several studies concluded that children and adults struggle with depression and other mental illnesses. The study also showed that they all felt the same exercise effects as they did from their antidepressant medication.
Similarly, those who suffer from anxiety disorders benefit from cycling and other aerobic exercises, too. A study in 2001 found that those who suffer from generalized anxiety disorders had a reduction in anxiety sensitivity and panic attacks after participating in aerobic exercises.
Researchers have also said that those who exercise regularly can decrease their risk of developing anxiety or depression by roughly 25%. It’s also worth noting that cycling is also a form of desensitization therapy for anxiety around busy roads and cars.
The reduction in depression and anxiety symptoms may be because cycling gives a person a sense of control. You can control how fast or slow the bike goes, contrary to running or walking. And in particular, you can do so where it’s much easier to get tired out if you choose to increase your speed.
5. Cycling Outdoors Exposes You to Fresh Air and Nature
Cycling outdoors helps treat and prevent Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), otherwise known as seasonal depression. The sun works to bring out serotonin in your body naturally. Because of this, it makes sense that being outside aids in releasing these neurotransmitters.
Not only that, but it also gives you the added benefit of exercising on an unconventional terrain. While many are used to a gym or exercising on a flat surface, cycling outside means you encounter bumps, hills, dips, and other rough surfaces.
As humans, we have a primitive urge to spend time outdoors. Cycling is just one of the many ways you can indulge that urge while keeping that unique relationship we seem to have with machines.
Many cyclists choose to indulge by taking a bike path to explore somewhere new and spend a few minutes barefoot at their destination. This barefoot activity is otherwise known as “Earthing.”
While riding, you get to experience everything the outdoors has to offer from a slightly different perspective from walking or running. When you walk or run, you’re restricted by speed and distance.
However, cycling allows you to go further and faster. You may also have access to specific biking trails that aren’t possible on foot.
6. It Exercises the Body and the Brain
When you cycle, you’re working all of the major muscle groups in your body. You use your legs and feet to pedal the bike, your arms to keep balanced, and your core to stay upright as you ride. Cycling is an aerobic exercise as you work to get your blood pumping.
As it’s an aerobic exercise, cycling increases your stamina and helps with strength training in your legs (especially if you’re fond of hills). Along with the burning of body fat, let’s explore some of the other physical health benefits of cycling:
- Increased cardiovascular function: Whether you choose a low or high-intensity workout, cycling increases your blood flow and, in turn, helps your heart.
- Muscle strength: Cycling is an excellent workout for the thighs and knees. It builds muscle in those areas more than anywhere else.
- Joint mobility and flexibility: Because it helps work out your knees, cycling helps stretch your joints and add flexibility.
- Less muscle tension: We’ve covered that cycling reduces stress, but we didn’t mention that muscle tension is a common side effect of stress. The more you cycle, the less strain you’ll feel as you go about your day.
Alongside the fantastic physical benefits cycling offers, there are a few cognitive health benefits to note as well. For starters, cycling requires a person to be alert of their surroundings at all times. You have to focus on nearby roads, other cyclists, pedestrians, and the possibility of different wildlife crossing your path.
While you spend this time observing your surroundings, you’re training your brain to focus on more than one thing at a time.
7. Casual Cycling Is a Low-Impact Exercise
Unlike running or HIIT workouts, casual cycling requires little energy to be a successful exercise session. It may not feel like cycling does much for the body while you casually cruise through the neighborhood. However, low-intensity cycling workouts have a lot to offer to the body.
For starters, just like high-intensity exercise, low-impact workouts build mitochondria for your cells. Also, riding at a slower pace allows your left heart chamber to refill before it contracts again fully. As time goes on, your body will learn to pump more blood per heartbeat, and your heart rate will slow down, too.
Going slow also helps build capillaries in your legs which allow for more blood flow and better circulation. Aside from the physical benefits of a low-impact cycle trip, you also have the opportunity to make it a social event, too. Bringing a friend along with you for the ride is an excellent way to be accountable and help your mood in the process.
Here’s a more detailed list of why low-impact exercise is so beneficial:
- The recovery period is much shorter. Your body isn’t going into overdrive, so you’ll have an easier time regulating your breathing after cycling.
- Low-impact workouts help your stability and balance. Because you don’t have to worry about speed, you’re able to spend more time focusing your attention on staying upright.
- Your range of motion improves. You’re constantly moving your legs, so it gets easier to flex your legs and walk/run around.
- Low-intensity exercise is better for endurance training. Endurance training focuses on the long haul rather than speed. Cycling allows you to build your endurance as you take it slow.
- Low-impact exercise is great for beginners. You don’t have to feel the pressure of not being as fast as another person. Instead, cycling allows you to go at your own pace.
- It’s easier to burn body fat when your heart rate is regulated. High-impact workouts push the body into its “anaerobic zone,” which burns calories much slower.
8. Your Cycling Routines Are Kind to the Planet
It feels good knowing that you’re doing less to contribute to climate change and diminishing native biodiversity when you hop on the bicycle. Transportation is responsible for more than half of CO2 and NO emissions. These emissions result from fossil fuel use, and when you choose to ride your bike rather than drive somewhere, you prevent more emissions from being released.
When fewer cars are on the road, the community can build more green space instead of parking structures. Green spaces allow more biodiversity to inhabit your area, resulting in cleaner, more breathable air.
Fewer cars driving also means less noise pollution, and the fact that bikes require very minimal maintenance means they’re much more sustainable for everyday commutes than a car.
9. Cycling is a Social and Therapeutic Activity
Think about it… We can feel physical pain, right? Now take a second to think about a time when a friend hurt your feelings or when you had your first break up. While this pain isn’t something that physically happened to the body, we can still feel it in our chest, heart, and stomach. And let’s be honest, those moments didn’t feel good and didn’t go away in a few seconds, either.
Whether we identify ourselves as an introvert or extrovert, humans are inherently social beings. Since the beginning of time, we’ve relied on group settings for survival. Even now, we thrive when we have a companion or group of friends we can relate to. You can use cycling to help clear and improve your mind or help you cope with emotional distress.
Scientist Matthew Lieberman has written about how our social pain and our knowledge of its existence alter the motivational landscape in our brain. He says that we connect with others because we’re motivated to make a connection for the sake of connection.
Cycling is also the perfect workout to do with a friend. Because it’s a low-impact exercise, you don’t have to worry about trying to catch your breath to speak. Instead, you’re able to carry a full conversation while also riding at a leisurely pace.
Cycling with a friend also means you have someone to look out for you, and vice versa. You can each use hand signals to warn about speed bumps or oncoming traffic as well as potholes and other hidden surprises.
Cycling with a friend also means having an accountability partner to help you make it up tough inclines.