Commuting benefits: How does cycling to work improve mental health?

Commuting by bike doesn't only lead to physical benefits, it can provide a mental boost too. From combating depression to boosting creativity, here are the mental benefits of riding to work

Clock12:06, Friday 24th May 2024
Cycling to work can have big benefits for your mental health

© GCN

Cycling to work can have big benefits for your mental health

By now, the physical benefits of cycling to work are well documented, as we recently covered on the GCN website. It’s one of the main reasons why so many people have swapped their cars for bikes for their journeys to work.

What’s not always as obvious, but no less important, is the mental health benefits of a cycling commute.

In a world where work and general life can cause plenty of mental strain, riding to and from work can be the perfect way to unwind and take a little stress out of your day.

But how exactly does cycling to work improve mental health? From boosting job satisfaction to combating depression, here are five mental health benefits.

Read more: Commuting: 10 things I wish I'd known before I started cycling to work

Cycling to work increases job satisfaction

Most people will experience a lack of motivation or general dissatisfaction in a job at some point. It’s natural to automatically point the finger of blame at the job itself, but research has shown that the way you commute to work could impact your job satisfaction, too, either positively or negatively, depending on the mode of transport.

Not just by a little bit either, at least in the case of cycling, with research pointing to a boost in job satisfaction simply by pedalling into the office. This benefit appears to be widespread, at least going by a survey conducted by ebikes.org in which 42% of the recipients who cycle to work reported improved job satisfaction.

Driving to work by car has a more negative effect and a study in China showed that the longer a car commute is, the more of a negative impact it can have on work satisfaction. This is because driving to work is viewed as a chore that infringes on our free time, whereas cycling is a more productive and enjoyable activity.

For commuting gear to help make your cycle to work more comfortable check out our range over at the GCN Shop.

Physical activity reduces stress and anxiety

Work can be stressful and your stress levels aren’t going to be appeased by a jam-packed drive home through rush hour traffic. Worst still, the morning drive is likely to leave you feeling stressed before you’ve even stepped foot in the office.

Cycling is a great way to remove stress from your journeys to and from work and to flush out any lingering feelings of anxiety. There is a caveat here, as cycling along busy roads can be pretty stressful too, but that’s why it’s important to carefully plan a cycling route that takes you away from the hustle and bustle to something more relaxing.

That may seem difficult in big cities but you will be surprised at how easy it is to plot a more scenic, or at least quieter, ride to work. Search out dedicated cycle paths or canal routes and if you’re struggling, recruit the help of an app. Strava can be really useful as it has a feature that shows the most popular routes taken by other cyclists.

Read more: Cycle to work: What's the best bike for your commute?

Riding to work can combat depression and make your happier

Mental health is often a tricky subject to navigate, partly because it doesn’t inflict injuries in a clear physical sense. The effects are often hidden within an individual, and one of the most common mental health issues people combat is depression.

Depression is a sweeping term but comes in various forms and affects people differently, but some studies have shown that commuting by car can increase an individual's chances of suffering from it. One study published by the US National Library of Medicine found that, on average, every 10 minutes of commuting by car raises an individual’s chances of screening positively for depression by 0.5%.

It also pointed to the negative effects of congestion, something city-bound commuters will be all too familiar with, which raises the risks by 0.8% for every 10 minutes of additional traffic delay.

Cycling to work, on the other hand, has been proven to improve mental health. There's no consensus among studies about how much it improves mental health, as it is hard to measure, but it clearly has a more positive effect than driving to work.

Does a cycle to work make you more creative?

It may do, at least according to the aforementioned survey conducted by ebike.org.

Of the 363 bike commuters surveyed, 40% reported an “increased motivation to innovate”. 27% said it made them more productive, too.

That sounds like a recipe for workplace success to us.

Read more: Creative commuting: How to have fun on your ride to work

Cycling improves your mood and energy levels

This extra productivity and creativity can perhaps be explained by another key finding from the survey, with 70% of recipients reporting higher energy levels.

That’s a significant but unsurprising statistic as it’s well known that exercise boosts endorphin levels. Endorphins are neurochemicals, or hormones, in the brain that are released when we exercise, particularly when it's moderate aerobic exercise, like a ride to work.

These endorphins are usually released about an hour after exercise and essentially send positive feelings around your nervous system, hence the energy and mood boost.

A ride to work can improve memory and cognitive function

According to a study published in 2020 in the Scientific Reports journal, just 15 minutes of high-intensity exercise, like cycling, could improve your memory. You won’t experience the benefits of this on slower commutes, but if you pack some higher intensity training into your rides to work, it could come with some unexpected memory-boosting benefits - if you need help planning training rides for your commutes, check out our guide here.

Some research has also pointed to increased cognitive function from cycling, which is an umbrella term for multiple mental abilities, including learning, thinking and problem solving - all of which will come in handy while working.

Read more: 8 commuter hacks that make cycling to work easy

Cycling helps you sleep at night

When you cycle to and from work, your body builds up physical and mental fatigue. The recovery process from this starts as soon as a ride ends but really kicks into gear when you sleep, when the body gets the time to recover ready for the next day.

Cycling to work isn’t a guarantee of good sleep but the added fatigue is likely to help you sleep a little bit better.

New to commuting? Check out our beginner’s guide to riding to work.

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