Mountain biking to better mental health (guest blog)

Back January 25th, 2018

 

It’s January 2016. I find myself in the middle of my Masters degree, having recently turned 30 and having recently been dumped. My stress levels are through the roof and my self-esteem is rock bottom. Things feel bleak.

 

Getting outside in the fresh air is my go-to coping strategy when things get tough. But I decide I need to do something new and challenging to shake things up a bit. I dust off my old mountain bike which has been collecting cobwebs in the shed, and I tag along on a friend’s mountain biking day trip. This is the first time I’ve ridden off-road since I was a child. I feel nervous at first; frightened even. But I throw myself into it, and when I get home I feel exhilarated. Cold, wet, muddy, hungry, and aching. But exhilarated.

And I’ve never looked back.

 

The more I rode, the better I felt. Mountain biking allowed me to experience the natural environment and landscape in a completely new way. More technical rides provided me with an abundance of mental and physical challenges that demanded concentration and focus. I felt scared a lot of the time when faced with obstacles or steep descents, but I picked my line carefully, walked when necessary, and faced these challenges nonetheless. More gentle, relaxed rides allowed me to sit back in the saddle and coast around the bridleways of West Yorkshire listening to the birdsong and watching the clouds skirt along the sky. My worries, anxieties and stresses simply faded away when I rode. My confidence began to grow both on and off the bike, and my outlook became more positive and purposeful.

It got me thinking: is there something special about mountain biking?

 

This question has taken me on quite a journey. I began to research mountain biking for my Occupational Therapy Masters, aiming to show that anyone can do it – you don’t have to be an adrenaline-junkie or have a death wish (though it helps if you don’t mind getting a bit muddy!) – and that the positive benefits for your mental health and well being could be huge. I have presented my findings at many events, and am currently conducting a research Internship where I am writing my study up for publication.

 

My current aim is simple: to get more people outside on their bikes so they can experience the myriad of psychological and health benefits it has to offer. Any old bike will do to get you going at first, though suspension helps. The evidence to show that outdoor adventure sports can positively impact on mental health is growing rapidly. Perhaps, in the not-too-distant future, mountain biking will become a viable add-on treatment for mental health problems.

 

Two years later and I am still riding my bike whenever I can. Januarys are still bleak but my outlook no longer is – and mountain biking plays a big part in that.

 

Bio

Lisa is an Occupational Therapist working with people who live with severe and enduring mental health problems. She supports them to understand their strengths and barriers, and help them to build a healthy, meaningful and fulfilling life for themselves. She is also researching mountain biking and is fascinated by its potential to positively affect psychological health and well being

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