In June 2022 The World Health Organization published one of its largest reports on the global state of mental health, bringing even more awareness to today’s worldwide mental health crisis. In just the first year of the pandemic, depression and anxiety increased by more than 25%, while stigma and discrimination continue to remain widespread towards individuals with mental health challenges.
As most of us within the indoor cycling community already know, exercise has been proven to help improve mental health. But what can we focus on within the realm of our rides specifically in order to overcome adversity? Metrics to motivate, moving with music, community connection, and personalization are some of the most important aspects of cycling that can help us build resilience.
Metrics to Motivate
First, it’s a proven fact that goals drive human motivation. In fact, in The Behavioral Neuroscience of Motivation, scientists Eleanor Simpson and Peter Balsam even define motivation as “the energizing of behavior in pursuit of a goal.” Feeling like today’s challenges in life are dragging your energy down? Get some goals.
In the case of indoor riding, do you train with specific distance, speed, power output, or other quantifiable goals in mind? Or are you simply training to feel great while maintaining a healthy, active lifestyle? Good news: whichever camp you fall in (maybe both) there are so many ways to prove to yourself that you’re making healthy progress in every ride. Not sure where to start? Try picking one, observing your achievements today, and tracking how you do going forward. The numbers you automatically achieve in every ride are just one way to make this simple tactic to build personal momentum so much easier.
As Shimano Indoor Cycling Ambassador & Fitness Influencer Kaleigh Cohen put it in a recent interview, “what's so amazing about a cycling workout is that you can find out how powerful you are or just what you can accomplish in a ride…You can be having a crummy day and you get on the bike and you are taken to a whole different level, pushing past your comfort zone, getting stronger, releasing so much, and leaning into feeling so strong and alive.”
Creating forward momentum is key to overcoming challenges in life. Cycling helps us to accomplish this easily by the many simple, accessible, and measurable goals any rider can achieve.
Moving with Music
Have you ever had a moment when you were listening to a song and felt a jolt of inspiration from a particular phrase, transition, or crescendo? Now, consider how powerful not only listening, but also moving to music can be - especially when working out to music in a high-intensity environment. As we note in Finding the Right Indoor Cycling Class, “Riders often say they came to a studio for the workout and kept coming back for the music.”
Today, most of what we see in ride design actually incorporates music as an integral part of every journey. It may come to no surprise that continually mounting evidence, including many studies that observe indoor cyclists specifically, demonstrates that working out in synchrony with music produces many effects that can help individuals combat adversity, from improvements in positive feelings and mood to curbing subjective fatigue (the feeling of lacking energy).
One of the preeminent researchers of music’s effects on exercise, Christopher G. Ballman has published several studies demonstrating links between moving to music and emotions such feelings of power, energy, and vitality as well as diversion of attention away from discomfort. What’s happening to stimulate these effects? Studies have shown that regions of the brain involved in emotion become activated through moving to music. Moreover, levels of lactate clearance, cortisol, norepinephrine and epinephrine levels, and numerous neurochemical levels affecting mood can change based on attributes of music that exercisers are moving to, such as tempo, volume, and other characteristics.
For many of us who love music, the fact that moving to music is more effective than not makes intuitive sense! It is also the case, however, that rhythm riding produces productive emotions for those in need of overcoming challenges in life.
You may have heard the phrase, “we are stronger together.” Whether riding with a coach, friends, or members of your community that you have yet to build relationships with, overcoming adversity is often more easily achieved together than alone.
Primarily, situating yourself within a community environment alone can give you momentum. In Season of Growth and Development, indoor cycling influencer Demar Jackson notes that just being around friendly, welcoming people can act as a strategy to attain improved wellbeing by placing yourself in pleasant, stimulating environments.
As you might expect, broad research supports this area of conventional wisdom. In a recent study observing the impact of group physical activity as well as team sports over the course of a 6 month period, the benefits are clear: both increased mental health and decreased depressive symptoms were positively associated with doing group physical activity and team sports - in small and big groups alike.
Finally, there’s no substitute for new, transformative relationships - it’s no secret that meeting new friends and forming lasting relationships is a positive byproduct of connecting with fellow riders that you continually exercise with. Not only is it possible to find support through your cycling community, but by sharing your own story, you may also help and inspire others to persevere through their own tough times. For many, the fact that you’re able to lend a helping hand through listening and supporting can be deeply rewarding in itself.
Last but not least, there is no one ride that fits all. The type of riding experience elements that will empower you the most - which types of metrics, music, or community characteristics - will come down to your personal preferences and needs.
Jackson sums it up well by sharing, “growth and development we feel and observe within ourselves will always differ from person to person…Ultimately, our goals may be similar in this upcoming season of challenges and opportunities, however our growth and development (our journey) will be unique to the person going through the experience at hand.”
We couldn’t agree more! If it takes a period of trial and error across various types of rides to identify those personal preference nuances, it’s important to know that it’s normal! As suggested in our guide to finding the right class for you, “Be sure to check out some different styles of classes or try different instructors; you might just find motivation somewhere you weren’t expecting.” After a few tries, we’re confident that you will strike gold.