We all know mental health is an extremely important subject and recently some of the best mountain bike riders including Brook Macdonald, Gee Atherton, Evie Richards, and Kate Courtney have opened up to discuss their mental health issues in the Red Bull TV Race Tapes series. Mental health issues can affect anyone and come in various guises and most of us will either have experienced one of these issues or will know someone who has. With the multitude of stresses faced in modern life, it's more important than ever to find ways to cope with these issues.
New Edinburgh Napier University research has highlighted the benefits of mountain biking for mental well-being, whether it's on cross-country trails, downhill mountain biking, or multi-day bikepacking adventures. The study by the Scottish university is based on a Trail Therapy program that has been running for a year by the Developing Mountain Biking in Scotland team. The project is aimed to share the joys and obtainable challenges of mountain biking, designed to help riders grow in confidence, improve social interactions, establish skills of self-regulation, and accelerate their road to mental health wellbeing.
Dr Christine Fox, the DMBinS Mountain Bike Health Programme Manager, said, "We can visibly see the difference in participants on our Trail Therapy program. This research from Edinburgh Napier University confirms that the program has an impact on improving the health and well-being of those involved. Mountain biking connects us with nature in a unique way that combines physical challenge, positive risk-taking, skill development, and unique opportunities for therapeutic experiences.”
Here at Bike Perfect we already know the positive benefits of mountain biking and with the expert research confirming the mental health benefits there's no excuse ever needed to get out for a ride. But just in case you need some extra motivation, here are our five reasons why mountain biking is just so good for the mind and body.
1. The Great Outdoors
Connecting with nature has significant mental health benefits. Ecotherapy, using nature as therapy, is emerging as a treatment for mental health. As mountain bikers, we get this as part of the deal. The hours spent out on the trails help us get away from the stresses of day-to-day life. Riding to locations that offer stunning views or taking in a mountain summit sunset not only gives the mind a boost but makes lifelong memories too.
2. The Sense of Achievement
When dealing with mental health anxiety, it can feel like a setback when it returns after a period of feeling strong and happy. However, achieving small goals and feeling improvement can help rebuild self-belief. Conquering a difficult trail feature, sending a new jump, or reaching the top of a challenging climb can be a powerful reminder that you can accomplish anything you set your mind to.
Mental health problems can be a lonely and scary place so having a network of family and friends is worth its weight in gold. Just the fact that there are people to spend time with and take your mind off stress for a while, and most importantly to make you laugh, is more than enough in most cases. The mountain biking community is awesome on this front, with a powerful and inspiring social media presence, social riding groups dotted around the country, and a race scene that's welcoming and accessible to anyone and any age. There's always something to get involved in. Even if you're not comfortable in large groups, there are groups on social media where you can meet riders who also look for smaller rider groups, and there are plenty of choices for women-only groups.
4. The feel good hormones come free
Mountain biking in its most basic form is exercise, and when you exercise your body releases endorphins, the feel good hormones that lift our mood, and reduce stress and anxiety. Exercise also teaches your body to deal with raised cortisol levels, the stress hormone, so by dealing better with this, you can reduce stress. There's even evidence to suggest that exercise reduces the risk of depression by up to twenty percent.
5. Perspective and meditation
When you feel trapped in your head, with thoughts rattling around, it can be easy to lose perspective on what's important in life. Being out on a mountain bike in the mountains, in the forest, or on the moors can remind us of just how big the world is, and equally make some of the day-to-day problems sometimes seem not so big. Just getting out on your bike, letting your body take control of where you're going, and letting your mind wander over thoughts or be completely clear is seen as a wonderful form of meditation. It's the perfect way to reduce the constant noise in your mind. It's important to give the mind a rest and not think, just concentrating on the ride leaves the mind refreshed and with new clarity.
Trail Therapy is funded by Trek, Nature Scot, the Scottish Government, and donations from the Scottish MTB Health Fund.