Thursday, November 19, 2009

mis bicis are my therapy

the most popular article in today's new york times is their well blog's "phys ed: why exercise makes you less anxious." having personally experienced less anxiety and depression after riding around, i was rather intrigued and clicked on through to the other side.

to summarize, princeton university researchers recently compared rats that run to rats that don't run. they put both sets of rats into a stressful situation: swimming in cold water. i don't know about you, but i believe swimming in cold water would be pretty stressful to almost anyone. anyway, the study found that the rats who run had new brain cells created by exercising (not a new discovery). these new brain cells, "the researchers concluded, appeared to have been 'specifically buffered from exposure to a stressful experience.' The rats had created, through running, a brain that seemed biochemically, molecularly, calm." the author noted that running is a form of aerobic (cardio) exercise, and, in theory, the conclusions should extend to cycling and swimming. also, for the exercise to start to work, it takes somewhere between 3 weeks and 6 weeks to for the difference to be noticable.

i am not a scientist or a medicinal doctor. i do, however, have a brain in my skull. this brain has been put through a lot of stressful situations. put simply, i have been both the rat that does not run and the rat that runs. and i can say with absolute certainty, that i have responded better to stressful situations after i started biking around the city. i notice i feel calmer, more ready to think rationally and in turn better cope with the stress.

for example. i am under personal stress in this picture (to clarify: the stress was not from hanging out w/ the people i was around). but...notice the smiles? i'm keeping the stress at bay, quite easily in fact.

Úna and cali kriss krossin' the bicis.

this study doesn't exactly break too much new ground, but it did get me thinking about myself and then about you guys, our lovely readers.

so what about you? do you feel less anxious after you have ridden for a couple of months? would you recommend biking as a form of therapy or medication for a friend in need? please let us know in the comments.


  1. I've happily said that the sorte has been my prozac. Exercise has been crucial to my mental health. But I notice that while working out helps me a lot, family biking is amazing b/c I can have the calming effects WHILE dealing with my main source of stress. Yes my kids stress me out. And so being able to be with them even acting like jerky kids I can feel the effects of being active in the moment and remain calm. I've never been more centered.

  2. I am always much more relaxed when I exercise regularly.
    Psychological studies have also found that exercise can help alleviate some of the symptoms of mild depression.
    Stuff I guess we already know.

  3. @mama vee: yes! yet another way that biking around is killing 285890 birds with one stone.

    @sox: yes, stuff we already know, but i think the article wanted to stress the difference in neurons, which i believe is the new discovery. having taken an anti-depressant before, very reluctantly i might add, i did notice my brain felt awash in something that was beyond my control. now i feel my brain is similarly awash, but now with good things that i can control. whether or not that was all how i perceived the world at the time or just a lack of vocabulary on my part, i believe is debatable. but that is just my opinion of what was going on in the braaaaiiinz. also, while one is depressed, it's hard to get into getting up and moving around. so that jump back to activity is also something that i find fascinating.

  4. I've been committed to regular exercise for the last 30 years and don't know how I would have managed without it. I can always see a difference in my outlook for the day depending on whether or not I was able to exercise in the morning. For years I was a regular morning runner. I find that difficult where we live now due to the fact how dark and cold it is in the morning so now I mostly bike to and from work. Besides getting my body moving, being outdoors compells me to slow down and appreciate the natural environment, which for me is always centering and soothing.

  5. cycling gets rid of my mental cobweb (the junk that lingers around in the head and eats me alive). i find it very beneficial.

    this is a very good post, especially candid!

    peace :)

  6. It makes complete sense that activity creates neural connections that protect us from stress. Any activity that involves all of your physical components (balance, stamina, strength, co-ordination...)with all of your senses is the Holy Grail of the kind of neurologic rehabilitation that I prefer to practice. When I work with patients on this level for even a week, I can see tremendous changes in how they view their recoveries and selves. It is always amazing.

  7. @she rides a bike: my mother has been a steady runner for 20-25 years. she gets very cranky if she can't get a run in during the day, when she's normally a very positive and optimistic person. since she and i virtually have the same body type, i thought i would be a runner too since she enjoyed it so much. but i can't. i hate it. so i'm glad i found biking :) i wonder if its the personality that drives to exercise or the exercise that influences personality. either/or or both ands. it's usually both ands, no?

    @chandra: thanks! the mental cobwebs in this brain are rather sticky and tangential. the ride always helps after a particularly nasty situation. thanks!

    @ade: i wonder if it is because the neurons that are created are done so through a stressful situation, therefore they are merely swimming among the status quo. moving the body and being coordinated is certainly more difficult than being sedentary (or slothful as the article's choice of adjective). so perhaps the neurons are like, "i've been through something similar. bring it on next time you have something 'stressful' to show me."

  8. I've been missing my daily rides. I do make sure I get some sort of exercise daily though. Before life threw a couple of curve balls my way, and I ended up with a less than optimal schedule for riding (not to mention, a less than optimal location for my work), this pretty muched summed me up:

    Now, you can fill in exercise for ride!

    Caltexi - I think that while the study addresses exercise, I think it can apply to anything that is enjoyable and allows a mental shift. My wife gets the same effect with a walk along the beach with her coffee, regardless of whether it is a brisk walk or a casual meandering pace.

  9. Most definitely - walking the hills and biking keep me sane. I get this buzzing anxiety if I don't hit the pavement regularly.

    I noticed too when we'd go on weekend rides with the children that the first fifteen minutes would be agony for them (and us hearing them) - whine, complain, whine. We'd just tough it out listening to them kvetch, though, because hit Minute 16 and suddenly they start singing or exulting over how gorgeous the sky. We figured it just took that long to sweat the toxins out of their blood - but maybe they were growing new brain cells? (Hmmm . . . that might explain a lot.)

  10. Emma-That minute 16 thing is soooooo true. Once you get past that, everything clears up like a miracle. The kids get along better if we ride to our destinations, too.

    Cali- Every neuron in the brain does something very specific. Take writing the letter "E". There are neurons to recognize the letter, neurons to visualize the letter, neurons to plan how to write the letter, neurons to hold the pencil, neurons to decide how hard to hold the pencil.... it is all very complex and specialized. The more often these individual neurons are challenged, the better they get at doing what they do. The more often the pathways that deal with various types of stress are used, the stronger and more efficient they become, which makes the task/stress easier to deal with. Also, the stronger they get the more it takes to challenge them. So with "stress" it would take more stress than previously experienced to elicit the same response which translates to dealing with stress better.

  11. sometimes some emotions are harder to overcome than the wonderful feeling of riding my bicycle. Ive done it for years and Im okay knowing that certain things I wont overcome, and then there is the friendships and absolute amazing rewards this 2wheeld machine brings me.
    Cheers. xo ♥m