Thursday, 3 February 2011

Cycling off the stress

Neurons in the brain. Benedict Cambell, Wellcome Images
Yesterday was a hectic, nay, manic, day at work. The kind of day where you arrive early, don't have lunch and leave two hours late, barely stopping to take a breath in between. I came out feeling incredibly wired, and jumped on Trusty to get to a social engagement I was now VERY late for. Bombing along the back streets, getting my weave on through the buses and taxis I felt the shoulder-hunching stress levels slowly metabolise into something else; exhilaration. The energy from my stressful day made that bike ride the most fun one I've had in ages. 

Yesterday was rare- I don't really get very stressed. And even when I do (as yesterday), there is a part of me that sort of enjoys the rush of it, the sense of a challenge to be completed. I am also generally a pretty upbeat person (yes, yes, ok, very upbeat). Until yesterday I had assumed that these were just basic, blessed facts of my personailty, well balanced by a whole heap of flaws in other areas. However, feeling clearly the cleansing effects of cycling on my stress levels last night made me wonder- maybe I'm not naturally unstressed. Maybe I am about as susceptible to stress as anyone else but I excercise regualarly, doing something that I love. Not pounding the treadmill but out with the wind on my face. 

Obviously, I am a bit slow on the uptake because research showed long ago that regular aerobic exercise reduces anxiety and improves mood:

“It looks more and more like the positive stress of exercise prepares cells and structures and pathways within the brain so that they’re more equipped to handle stress in other forms,” says Michael Hopkins, a graduate student affiliated with the Neurobiology of Learning and Memory Laboratory at Dartmouth, who has been studying how exercise differently affects thinking and emotion. “It’s pretty amazing, really, that you can get this translation from the realm of purely physical stresses to the realm of psychological stressors.”

Now we all know I'm no science head, but I think this is pretty amazing. Through cycling (or running, or dancing, or even, if it's your personal poison, going to the gym) we can wire ourselves for emotional stability. So next time you find me annoyingly pollyanna-esque, just remember; I can't help it. It's Trusty's fault. 


  1. And if the cycling doesn't work, Scottish Country Dancing in weekly doeses is good tooo.

    Yours in a kilt and on a Brompton (but not so far at the same time!)


  2. @Adam- that's quite a mental image there. crikey.