Cycling and Mental Health

Last week I attended a talk at Look Mum No Hands on the relationship between cycling and mental health. It was an interesting and insightful discussion…


Cycling and mental health

Last week I attended a talk at Look Mum No Hands on the relationship between cycling and mental health. It was an interesting and insightful discussion with members of the panel sharing their personal experiences of mental health issues and cycling. It’s really positive to see that mental health is being discussed more openly. There are so many blogs, podcasts, events, books and social media accounts dedicated to a topic which was just not spoken about up until recently. The stigma is definitely starting to shift.

Cycling (and exercise in general) is often recommended to anyone suffering with mental health problems as a form of medication. The benefits are certainly well-documented. It can improve your state of mind, widen your social circle, get you outdoors in nature and boost your endorphins. Interestingly, there is a study which shows that men are more able to talk openly about their issues whilst cycling side-by-side someone, rather than speaking face-to-face.

However for anyone suffering with severe symptoms, cycling may be the last thing they want to do. For those in the depths of depression, it can be a struggle to even get out of bed, wash and dress. At the opposite end of the spectrum, cycling solo can be used as a way to withdraw from company and become more insular.

Getting on your bike more often is not a quick fix solution or cure-all. It does provide a temporary escape, but you still need to have other methods of coping with life off the bike.

Cycling and mental health

The panel also discussed the way that cycling is portrayed on social media and how this can be detrimental to mental health. People tend to present their highlights on social media- it’s all about capturing the perfect image which shows us riding further, faster, harder, in the best locations and the best kit. We compare ourselves to an unrealistic online personal and that exacerbates the pressures we put on ourselves.

I was particularly interested in the discussion around the insecurities and self-doubt we all experience as cyclists. Cycling can be very daunting- many of us worry about being unable to keep up in a group ride or feel as though we don’t fit in at an event. It’s also common to have fears around technical elements of riding like climbing, cornering and descending.

Jools Walker recently blogged about her fears leading up to Ride London– her experiences mirrored mine so closely that I could have written the post myself. I was lucky enough to get a place in the ballot last year and trained towards my first century ride with excitement. However as the event got closer, my anxieties started to get the better of me. I convinced myself that the ride was beyond my abilities, that I wouldn’t be able to handle the hills or the crowds of riders on the roads. I worried I’d have an accident or a mechanical failure. I love riding sportives, but somehow I had built this event up in my mind to be a negative experience before I’d even started.

Unlike Jools, I didn’t manage to put the thoughts to the back of my mind and didn’t make the start line of Ride London. I stayed home that day regretting my decision while my husband and friends had a amazing time riding 100 miles around London and Surrey. It’s the one and only occasion that I’ve allowed self-doubt to stop me doing what I wanted to do. I have unfinished business with Ride London. It sounds cliche but I need to feel the fear and do it anyway- one day I will cross the finish line of a century ride.

Cycling and fitness have had a huge positive impact on my wellbeing. Whilst I don’t suffer with depression or anxiety myself, I do appreciate the importance of looking after my mental health and recognising negative thoughts before they take over.

You can catch up on the Facebook live recording of the event or listen to it on the Wheel Suckers podcast.

What is your experience of cycling and mental health?


  1. I love how the connection between exercise and mental health is being continuously given light as its so important. while with most anxiety and depression disorders there is certainly no easy quick fix, but personally I find cycling not only helps me day to day with my own anxiety, but also long term has helped me to keep mental health issues at a level I can cope with.

  2. One of my closest and oldest friends suffers from bi-polar disorder. Cycling has been wonderful for her and very therapeutic. I am thankful for her that she has been able to find a love for cycling and that it helps her manager her bi-polarism.

  3. Yes! I totally agree with this and running and swimming do the same for me as well! However, cycling is a different beast when you mention “keeping up”…it is daunting to be on rides with people that will drop you if you can’t keep up.

    1. Yes I think it’s all about finding the right group of people to ride with. Those who ride just slightly faster so that it challenges you, without actually getting dropped!

  4. Great info! I didn’t know the health benefits of cycling…but it makes sense since it’s a form of exercise and exercise releases those feel-good endorphins 🙂 I haven’t rode a bike since I was a kid!

  5. Love this – there’s a special kind of freedom that comes with riding a bike – freedom in both body and mind.
    I also had a place for Ride London, deferred from last year when I broke my collarbone, but didn’t train enough so didn’t do it either!

  6. So, SO thrilled to see people talking about Mental Health, especially when it is linked to outdoor activities and fitness. I manage my anxiety and depression with both these things (and sometimes a little help from the Dr), but the very best thing about this is getting everyone to talk and open up about it. I still stutter and struggle sometimes when telling someone new that I have anxiety so the more people like you doing and writing stuff like this the better! Whoop whoop! 🙂

  7. Fab read Lucy! I really doubt my ability on the bike, my worst fear for my recent Ironman was not making the bike cut off or the decensts being too technical and/or too fast… recently at the Wiggle South Downs ride I got off at the top of a hill (I’d cycled up it just fine) and cried because I didn’t want to ride down the hill, I was also physically shaking… a bad fall a couple of years ago has wrecked my confidence when cornering or desending and I’m really struggling to get over that…

  8. Great Read lucy. I’m getting very nervy and a lot of insecurities about cycling at the moment. Before I started ironman training, I cancelled my place on several group rides very last minute because of that fear of not being able to keep up. That fear is still there but it’s something I’m working on before I join a group ride!

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