I’ve just read this article, The Cycle Path to Happiness, and it is full of fascinating items.
1. [R]iding a bike has extraordinary effects on our brain chemistry. (I know it makes me grin like a fool, likely due to some sort of chemistry.)
2. You need only look at the physique of Bradley Wiggins to appreciate the potential effects of cycling on the body. (But no one can promise it will make you look as Mod as Bradley Wiggins.)
3. [R]iding a bike can induce what feels close to a state of meditation.
4. Whether during solo pursuits along country lanes in spring, or noisy, dirty commutes, time can pass unnoticed in a blissful blur of rhythm and rolling. (Unless you have to pee.)
5. In 1896 at the height of the first cycling boom, a feature in the The New York Times said this about the activity: “It has the unique virtue of yielding a rate of speed as great as that of the horse, nearly as great as that attained by steam power, and yet it imposes upon the consciousness the fact that it is entirely self-propulsion.” (Yes!)
6. With the great speed there are the subtle glide and sway of skating, something of the yacht’s rocking, a touch of the equestrian bounce, and a suggestion of flying. The effect of all this upon the mind is as wholesomely stimulating as is the exercise to the body. (So well put! I’d never put all those pieces together before, but yeah.)
7. Danish scientists who set out to measure the benefits of breakfast and lunch among children found diet helped but that the way pupils travelled to school was far more significant. Those who cycled or walked performed better in tests than those who had travelled by car or public transport, the scientists reported last month. (Smartness for children!)
8. Another study by the University of California in Los Angeles showed that old people who were most active had 5 per cent more grey matter than those who were least active, reducing their risk of developing Alzheimer’s. (Smartness for the Olds!)
9. John Ratey is a Professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School [and] says he has seen patients whose severe depression has all but disappeared after they started to cycle. (This is good to know, for everyone.)
10. Rhythm may explain some of the effects. (No wonder I find cycling as indispensable as music; both are necessary for a happy life.)
11. When we had to perform physically, those who could find an altered state and not experience the pain or a drag on endurance would have been at an advantage. (Perhaps triathletes make the best hunters?)
12. Cycling is also increasing a lot of the chemistry in your brain that make you feel peaceful and calm. (Like sailing, without threat of hostile sea creatures.)
13. [T]he focus required to operate a bicycle, and for example, to negotiate a junction or jostle for space in a race, can be a powerful medicine.
14. More than 20 pupils with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) are expected to show improved symptoms after a course of cycling. The link between cycling and ADHD is well established. It’s “like taking a little bit of Prozac and a little bit of Ritalin,” Dr Ratey says. (Side effects, however, may include urge to constantly upgrade.)
15. Cycling has even been shown to change the structure of the brain. (Always open to renovation, I am.)
16. In 2003, Dr Jay Alberts, a neuroscientist at the Cleveland Clinic Lerner Research Institute in Ohio, rode a tandem bicycle across the state with a friend who has Parkinson’s to raise awareness of the disease. To the surprise of both riders, the patient showed significant improvements. (That is so cool!)
17. Dr Alberts conducted an experiment, the results of which were reported last month. He scanned the brains of 26 Parkinson’s patients during and a month after an eight-week exercise programme using stationary bikes. Half the patients were allowed to ride at their own pace, while the others were pushed incrementally harder, just as the scientist’s tandem companion had been. All patients improved and the “tandem” group showed significant increases in connectivity between areas of grey matter responsible for motor ability. Cycling, and cycling harder, was helping to heal their brains. (Amazing stuff!)
18. We don’t know how, exactly, this happens, but there is more startling evidence of the link between Parkinson’s and cycling.
19. A clip posted on YouTube by the New England Journal of Medicine features a 58-year-old Dutchman with severe Parkinson’s. In the first half of the video, we watch the unnamed patient trying to walk along a hospital ward. He can barely stand. Helped by a physiotherapist, he manages a slow shuffle, before almost falling. His hands shake uncontrollably. Cut to the car park, where we find the man on a bicycle being supported by staff. With a push, he’s off, cycling past cars with perfect balance and co-ordination. After a loop, he comes to a stop and hops to the ground, where he is immediately immobile again. (Bicycles are miraculous, clearly.)
20. [T]he bicycle’s rotating pedals may act as some sort of visual cue that aided the patient’s brain. (A sort of visual rhythm, music for the nervous system.)
21. The apparent mindlessness of pedalling can not only make us happier (“Melancholy,” the writer James E Starrs has said, “is incompatible with bicycling”) but also leave room for other thoughts, from the banal to the profound.
22. Of his theory of relativity, meanwhile, Albert Einstein is supposed to have said: “I thought of it while riding my bicycle.” (So there you have it.)