May is Bike Month. May is Mental Health Month. May is the perfect month to ride a bike for your mental health!
But first, let’s have some real talk. America is in a mental health crisis that predates the COVID-19 pandemic but has only been exacerbated by the additional stresses the past two years have wrought. BikeTexas joins the many, many organizations and people across the country and around the world calling for an end to the stigma against mental health conditions–seeing a therapist about anxiety is as natural and necessary as seeing a doctor for high blood pressure. If you have any concerns at all about your mental health, a bike ride is no substitute for seeing a qualified mental health professional. Please take good care of your mental health–we’re cheering for you every step of the way!
But just because a bike ride isn’t the solution to every problem doesn’t mean it won’t do you some good. Anecdotally, we all know that riding a bike, like most exercise, makes us feel better. We think our friend Elle Woods expresses it best:
Good news: this knowledge is not merely anecdotal. According to a 2019 study, “people who moved more … had a significantly lower risk for major depressive disorder.” And as physical activity levels dropped nationwide during the pandemic, researchers found that “more sitting time over longer periods of time was associated with worsening symptoms of depression and anxiety.” Be sure to mention that to your boss when you skip out the door for a lunchtime bike ride!
Of course, our built environment–making our cities and towns great places to bike and walk–can help with this. The Institute of Transportation Engineers says,
People who live in walkable and bikeable communities tend to be healthier, and commuters who walk and bike to work tend to happier than those who use public transit or drive to work. Daily walking and bicycling have been shown to improve mood, reduce depression, and reduce dementia. Transportation planning can help ensure that the opportunity for convenient and safe active travel are available to all.
Check out this article that is chock-full of ideas for urban planners for how cities can support mental health, including spaces that support more physical activity–say, for example, protected bike lanes and trails.
Finally, evidence has emerged in two recent studies that exercise and mental health therapy go hand-in-hand, so much so that exercise boosts the beneficial effects of therapy. According to the news report,
At the end of the eight-week intervention program, participants in both groups showed improvements, but those who exercised before talking with a therapist showed more significant reductions in symptoms of depression. The researchers said the results indicate exercise could help amplify the benefits of therapy for adults with depression.
All month long, when you enjoy riding your bike for Bike Month, you’re also supporting your mental health for Mental Health Month. Get out there and enjoy your May in every way you can!
Below are all the resources cited in or consulted for this article:
- “The State of Mental Health in America“
- “Demand for mental health treatment continues to increase, say psychologists“
- “Pledge to Be Stigma Free“
- “Grecia White’s ‘Women Who Bike At Night’ Documentary Celebrates the Joys of Riding After Dark“
- “More evidence that exercise can boost mood“
- “How the pandemic wrecked our relationship with exercise“
- “Transportation for Mental Health and Happiness“
- “Transportation as a Determinant of Health“
- “How to Support Mental Health Through Urban Planning“
- “Moderate exercise before therapy can amplify mental health benefits, study finds“
- “The Effects of Long Commutes and What To Do About Them“
- “4 ways to get unstuck if you’re in a rut“
- “4 better ways to think about wellness at work“
- “Survey Says: E-Scooters Are Great for Riders’ Mental Health“
- “Minimal effort required: A ten-minute run can boost brain processing“
- “Take more outdoor walks: Neuroscientists say they’re great for your brain“