Cycling can help us ride out our worries during Stress Awareness Month

It’s no secret that physical exercise has huge benefits for our mental health – and the COVID-19 pandemic affecting millions worldwide brings this into startling focus.

As we batten down the hatches and keep ourselves in isolation to safeguard our physical health, there will inevitably be a knock-on risk to our mental wellbeing. The unfolding coronavirus crisis is everywhere we look, life as we know it has dramatically, though temporarily, changed and many are separated from their loved ones for the foreseeable future.

We all experience stress in one form or another at some point in our lives and that’s why looking after our bodies and our minds is of paramount importance. April is Stress Awareness Month, meaning there has never been a more poignant time to pay a little attention to our mental health – and cycling, as one of those activities permitted by the government during lockdown, can help do just that.

As one of the first sports most of us master, it’s a pastime that unites all generations, from young children getting to grips with their first set of wheels to those who continue to cycle well into their twilight years. Insync’s dealer of the month for March, Bolton-based Ebike Capital, recently sold an ebike to a 92-year-old who could no longer handle a mechanical bike but didn’t want to give up his favourite hobby, showing the positive benefits getting out on two wheels can have on all age groups.

Similarly, people of all ages can experience stress, which is why getting out on the saddle and taking our minds off the current situation can be the perfect tonic for these testing times.

According to the Stress Management Society, stress is linked to physical problems such as heart disease, problems with our immune system and digestive problems, not to mention mental illnesses such as anxiety and depression. Improving fitness through cycling will boost all of these issues.

As physical fitness improves, so too does positivity. We can see and feel our bodies getting stronger, giving us something to focus on other than the issues making us stressed. There’s a great sense of achievement in having mastered a new skill and beat targets we set ourselves. Going further each time, taking on a new route or picking up speed can all contribute to that feel-good factor, and that can alleviate the stress we’re feeling in other areas of our lives.

Then there’s the element of getting outside of those four walls. Whether you live in an urban environment or close to the countryside, filling your lungs with fresh air is a great mood enhancer and the perfect way to allow your mind to drift to things other than the issues stressing you.

Insync brand ambassador Shanaze Reade knows only too well the benefits cycling can have as a stress reliever. She has struggled with her mental health at points and says she only truly felt healthy in body and mind once she got back on the bike.

“Cycling is a great way to put some distance between you and the parts of life that are stressing you out, giving you the space to concentrate on an activity that has huge benefits for your body and mind,” she says. “The repetitive action of pedalling can have a meditative effect as you focus on the rhythm as you ride and at the end of the day you’ll find the exercise you’ve done should contribute to getting a good night’s sleep, something we all need at the moment.”

Shanaze has some tips for those who may be getting back into the sport as a way to get their permitted daily exercise. She said: “You don’t necessarily have to be an experienced cyclist to get the most out of riding a bike as it really is a sport anyone can enjoy and benefit from. Before you go out, ensure that you are comfortable and that your seat is the right height (approx. hip height and so your legs are almost straight when the pedal is at its lowest point) and that tyres are adequately inflated and take a pump out with you, just in case.

“Comfortable clothing is essential and I would recommend taking a bottle of water with you either somewhere on your bike or kept in a backpack.”

Shanaze recommends taking a route you know well for your first ride, as this will ensure you concentrate on your technique and not the directions you need to take. “For your first ride, I’d recommend going out for a really short spin just to give it a go – say about 15-20 minutes or so and then building up from there,” she says. “You could vary the route and your speed each time as you gain in confidence and fitness. The most important thing, however, is to just enjoy yourself and concentrate on having some time to yourself or spent with loved ones (who you live with). It’s an excellent way to alleviate stress during these tough times.”

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