Mental Heath Awareness Week – 10th - 16th May 2021. How will you get involved?
Mental Health Awareness Week takes place part way through the easing of lockdown restrictions. It’s timely because the impact of COVID-19 on mental health has been huge. The president of the Royal College of Psychiatrists has called the pandemic "the greatest threat to mental health since the second world war”, while the British Medical Journal has concluded that “the mental health impact is likely to last much longer than the physical health impact”.
Cycling is good for our mental health, especially now. Many forms of exercise became impossible or impractical during lockdowns and subsequent restrictions. Cycling is an activity we’ve been able to do throughout. Along with quieter roads, that’s what fuelled the recent cycling boom. People needed, and continue to need, an escape. For many, it became cycling.
The pandemic has made us bored, frustrated and lonely. For some it has also caused or exacerbated more serious mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression. From 2019 to 2020, the percentage of UK adults aged 16-39 showing signs of depression rose from 10.9% to 31%. (There was a smaller but still significant increase among those aged 40-69.)
The World Health Organisation has offered a number of recommendations to help us cope with the mental strain of lockdown. Two of them were: begin a new activity; take regular exercise - cycling can be both.
The beneficial effects of exercise apply to newbies and long-term cyclists alike. There’s a proven link between physical activity and better mental health. Exercise lowers stress hormones and boosts endorphins. It helps us sleep better. So it’s no surprise that a survey commissioned by Bike Radar found that 87% of cyclists rode their bikes to boost their mental health during lockdowns.
Cycling isn’t only a pandemic-resistant way to exercise, of course. It’s also a pandemic-resistant way to travel. A bike can take us wherever we need to go locally – to work, for example – with a much smaller risk of being exposed to the virus compared to public transport.
It’s likely that a return to the workplace is now on the cards for the near future. With the pandemic having turned a spotlight on cycling as a transport solution, now is an ideal time to think about getting a bike.
Although bikes obtained via Cyclescheme do need to be ridden to work for at least 50% of the time, they can still be used for other journeys, such as those that start and end at the home. A bike ride is just as beneficial to someone working from home as it is to someone commuting. From a mental health point of view, it’s probably more important. If you’re stuck by yourself in the spare room for hours or days, it’s easy to get cabin fever. A bike ride provides exercise and – by putting you in a different, outdoor environment – perspective.
The operative word here is ‘outdoor’. Cycling indoors on a static trainer is better than no exercise, but studies have shown that exercising outdoors is better for you. Fresh air, vitamin D, greenery – it’s all good. This year’s Mental Health Awareness Week acknowledges this: its theme is ‘nature’, in recognition of the mental health benefits that getting out into green spaces provides.
You can also buddy up and ride together. As of this spring, small groups can ride together as well. So suggest it to your friends and family. Cycling is an excellent way to exercise and socialise at the same time. It can also reforge workplace bonds that the pandemic has broken. Just set up a WhatsApp group with your favourite colleagues so you can arrange to ride in to work, at lunchtime, or after work one evening each week.
One caveat on group riding is that the different home nations have different timescales and rules for easing lockdown – and a spike in COVID-19 cases could derail any of them. For up to date pandemic cycling advice, visit the websites of British Cycling and Cycling UK.
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