I dare you to get on a bike and not smile. There is something about riding a bike, whether it’s the freedom, wind on your face, or the childhood nostalgia, that instantly puts you in your happy place. Not that you needed it, but now there is proof that riding a bike is good for your mental health, too.
An article published in The Lancet Psychiatry journal outlined the results of a study into exercise and its association with mental health. By analyzing data from over 1 million Americans during 2011 to 2015, the researchers were able to better understand the influence of exercise type, frequency, duration, and intensity on our mental well-being.
The study analyzed data from 1,237,194 people aged 18 years or older in the USA from the 2011, 2013, and 2015 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Behavioral Risk Factors Surveillance System survey. The researchers compared the number of days of bad self-reported mental health between individuals who exercised and those who did not, using an exact non-parametric matching procedure to balance the two groups in terms of age, race, gender, marital status, income, education level, body-mass index category, self-reported physical health, and previous diagnosis of depression. They examined the effects of exercise type, duration, frequency, and intensity.
The result? Individuals who exercised had 43.2 percent fewer days of poor mental health in the past month than individuals who did not exercise but were otherwise matched for several physical and socio demographic characteristics. All exercise types were associated with a lower mental health burden (minimum reduction of 11.8 percent and maximum reduction of 22.3 percent) than not exercising.
The largest associations were seen for popular team sports (22.3 percent lower), cycling (21.6 percent lower), and aerobic and gym activities (20.1 percent lower), as well as durations of 45 min and frequencies of three to five times per week.
The conclusion? Get out and ride your bike for at least 45 minutes three to five times a week and you will be happier. I can attest to that — days that I am stuck behind a computer I am way less happy than those where I have a chance to get out on my bike.
Though beware — the team also noted that more is not always better. As always, the key is balance.