For many of us, July means tuning in to the Tour de France and hoping to see our favourite rider in that famous yellow jersey. Perhaps some of us will be taking part in the wealth of summer cycling events, audaxes and night rides around the UK this month or making the most of fine weather to cycle to work. Others may be inspired to get that dusty bike out of the shed for the first time in a while – especially as there are so many compelling reasons to get pedalling.
There’s strong evidence that cycling can improve individuals’ cardiovascular fitness and mental health, and the many health and wellbeing benefits of regular exercise can also be gained from cycling – even using e-bikes. In addition, regular cycling can contribute positively to wider society by reducing health costs and when it replaces car trips there is also potential to reduce the health and environmental harms caused by particulate and carbon dioxide emissions. There is also evidence that cycling can contribute to a thriving local economy which in turn can positively impact on quality of life.
CYCLING FOR WELLBEING
But how can we make the most of all these benefits by making cycling part of our everyday lives? Research suggests that the more people enjoy cycling, the more likely they are to do it (no surprises there!). So, whether it’s your first time in the saddle or your thousandth, here are some ideas to give your rides a wellbeing boost:
5 ways to wellbeing: British Cycling have put together a handy guide to cycling and the five ways to wellbeing. Cycling offers opportunities to Connect, Learn, Be Active, Notice and Give and many activities you could try will cover at least three or four of them. For example, by volunteering to help with a local cycling group or event you could be connecting with others, giving your time, being active and learning new skills.
Some areas already have programmes to help people from all walks of life access the wellbeing benefits of cycling, such as this one in London. Also in the capital, Wheels for Wellbeing works with disabled adults and children to overcome the barriers to cycling and experience the benefits.
For more information on the 5 ways to wellbeing, see our Little Book of Wow.
Connecting with nature: Experiencing and feeling part of nature also offers wellbeing and other health benefits. Five pathways to nature connectedness have been identified which anyone can use to help them feel closer to and part of nature. The pathway descriptions below have been taken from the Finding Nature blog:
- Senses – Tuning in to nature through the senses
- Emotion – Feeling alive through the emotions and feelings nature brings
- Beauty – Noticing nature’s beauty
- Meaning – Nature bringing meaning to our lives
- Compassion – Caring and taking action for nature.
My own preliminary research suggests that these pathways can be experienced while cycling and that, for some people, cycling can help them access and spend time in nature. For example, simply paying attention to the sensory experience of cycling in a natural landscape, including the sounds and sensations of wind and weather, evokes the Contact pathway. The positive feelings associated with the physical exertion of cycling may enhance Emotional experiences of the surrounding landscape or appreciation of its Beauty. Arguably, choosing to cycle instead of drive a journey could also be considered an act of compassion for nature, activating the Compassion pathway. Finally, the awareness of the seasons that comes with regular cycling in nature could relate to the Meaning pathway.
There’s a wealth of resources about nature connectedness and the five pathways on the Finding Nature blog. To find cycling routes on traffic-free paths or quiet roads near you, the National Cycle Network is a great place to start. Not all the Network is abundant with nature but there are a surprising number of leafy greenways even in some of our largest cities.
Still not sure about cycling?
Cycling may not be for everyone and there are many other ways to improve your wellbeing and make a positive contribution to people and planet. However, with more and more tourism destinations offering bike hire, e-bike tours and family bike trails, it could be worth giving it a go during your summer holiday. Who knows where that first journey could lead?
Mel Cairns, Researcher, Centre for Thriving Places
Mel is the inhouse researcher at Centre for Thriving Places. She has a Masters in Sustainable Development in Practice and her previous research has explored nature connectedness, active travel and compassionate values. She will shortly begin a PhD exploring leisure cycling in natural environments.