So I grabbed an early ride this morning. I thought I’d miss the worst of the weather according to what the Met Office had forecasted. Haha, turns out that didn’t happen. I got soaked. Not the end of the world. But worse, the sleet falling on already frozen ground made the going kinda treacherous. Actually it was only when the back tyre completely gave way that I realized I was on a totally glassy surface yikes! That’ll learn me for trusting them pesky weather forecasters, pffft. Made it back in one piece, but as you’ll see from the accompanying vid for this Why I Love Cycling Over 50 article on CyclingQuestions YouTube channel, the going was sketchy in places.
But hello, Dear Reader and welcome back! It’s great to have you here 🙂 I wanted to continue with our four part series discussing what’s so good about cycling, especially for over 50 year olds (like me!) and probably specifically over the winter. And winter it most certainly is here, blowing at its icy best right now as I type! #brrrr 😮
Calming and energizing? What, both? Please explain
So this is the second reason I love cycling at my age – and these I doubt are in order of importance. It’s because by getting on my bike, I feel both physically calmed and physically energized at the same time. Like simultaneously! Yep, ‘strue 🙂 If you’re one for getting out on your bike, maybe you can understand what I mean by that. And if not, maybe I can indeed do my best to explain.
So, just to be clear, I am talking about the physical or muscular calming sensation that cycling (or I guess many other exercises) brings. There’s absolutely a psychological de-stressing effect too, but I’ll be going into more detail on cycling vs stress in Part 4. And while I appreciate the two types of calming (as well as their causative tensions) are often inextricably linked, I’m just referring to the sensation of physical or muscular calm here 🙂
Where’s the muscle tension come from?
As I say, the physical tension in the muscles is often inseparable from the psychological stress that we often find our selves coping with. Muscle tension, muscle and / or nervous restlessness are symptoms I’d see frequently as a counsellor in clients dealing with any of the myriad forms of anxiety. How does that happen and what’s the connection between psychological stress and muscular tension? Well, according to the American Psychological Association, essentially, our bodies respond to psychological stress by engaging muscles as a guarding or protective reflex. Chronic stress can even produce tension-type headaches and migraine.
Where else might muscular tension originate?
Besides stress, and the likes of muscle overworking and muscle trauma – for which rest is generally prescribed – alternative causes can be as diverse as poor, or misaligned posture when sitting, and uncomfortable, unsupported or plain ol’ inappropriate shoes when walking – yes I see you there with the unnecessary stilettoes haha #spoilsport :D. Problems can stem too from simple musculo-skeletal (or homeostatic) imbalances such as something I, and many other cyclists and walkers, know well: leg-length discrepancy! (see my curing saddle and sitbone pain article which attributed some of my former discomfort to that very homeostatic imbalance).
Muscle tension and concomitant pain can arise pretty much anywhere and I’ve no doubt there are more than I’ve enumerated here – what’s your own experience? I’d be grateful to know 🙂
One of the prescribed techniques I’d call upon in counselling practice for this is progressive muscle relaxation or PMR. It’s a fairly simple and fairly effective self-check method involving cycles of tensing and releasing muscle groups. It doesn’t even take too long which is why it’s good in a counselling situation because the results are fairly immediate. Here’s some info from WebMD if you want to check how it’s done 🙂
And then there’s cycling…
Thing is, I find the exact same result from cycling – from a decent moderate ride – that’d be gained from consciously working through muscle groups as part of a PMR exercise. But while PMR is generally done sitting or lying down, by getting out on your bike, you’re able to tense and relax your major large muscle groups without even having to think about it. This is particularly true when you’re also utilizing your upper body, say for climbing out of the saddle, or when maintaining a short, sharp interval or accelerating in a sprint. All of these engage and relax interdependent muscle groups across your body’s surface. It’s this very process that brings about a release of that muscle tension we talked about earlier.
Best of all though, when going for a bike ride, you don’t even have to consciously think of any of this. Just ride your bike, work your legs normally and engage your upper body on intervals, sprints or climbs out of the saddle, and the tensing and release is all taken care of!
#instantcalm and all you had to do was get out on ya bike!
So this is what I mean by feeling physically calm. It makes cycling even more of a joy for me. We may not always be consciously aware of that feeling of physical calm when we’re out on a ride. But if you haven’t already, try for a second paying close conscious attention to how calm you feel once you regain your breath at the top of any climb no matter how long or hard 🙂 And if you’re using winter as an excuse to hibernate, Dear Reader, wouldn’t you consider getting out there just for a quick hop on the bike to see for your self? I’d love to imagine you would 🙂 #youdeserveit
Kirk to Enterprise… Energize!
Haha, oh man, showing my age, or wait… excuse me, I’m referring to the 2009-onward reboot series of movies! #scifinerd 😀 Seriously though, what do I mean when I say cycling gives that physical energizing?
Well, again, let me firstly differentiate in order to clarify. There’s a definite sense of achievement and success gained by getting out on the bike, as I ALWAYS say, with modest goals (see my motivation hacking strategy for cycling article for more). Amongst other things, this is proven efficacious in ridding oneself of depression. This sense of achievement can give us a psychological boost that can also enhance our mood. Great – and I’ll get to that in Part 4 of this series. For now though I’m referring just to the sense of being physically energized that comes from a decent bike ride.
One of the keys to this feeling of being physically energized is of course ensuring you’re adequately fuelled for your ride. I’m sure that’s a given, but if you miss that energized feeling, could it be that your intake of fuels is too low? #justwonderin 🙂
Why cycling boosts energy levels?
Nevertheless, regular exercise from your cycling increases energy and reduces fatigue. And how’s that work? Well, briefly, right down at a cellular level, in every cell, we find mitochondria – cell organelles responsible for biochemical energy production. Cycling, like any exercise causes an increase in mitochondria production in our body to meet our energy consumption needs. And consequently, the more mitochondria we possess within, the more our metabolism gets boosted, in turn increasing our ability to produce more energy. Normally in studies we’ll see that sedentary individuals gain max boosts by starting a program of exercise. But the energizing applies unilaterally to us all.
As an aside, meta-analytical studies have shown that greater gains in energizing / reductions in fatigue are gained through exercise than by stimulant medication usage. This finding is unilateral irrespective of the study group – including healthy adults, cancer patients, and people with CVD and diabetes. So, yeah, cycling! 😀
Cycling through the dark winter…
While I don’t think any of us as cyclists count as sedentary, I know many of us, myself included, can have sedentary jobs and/or fall prey to the winter! So I think getting out on your bike for that sense of physical energizing is especially relevant in the winter months when we can easily lapse into the vicious cycle of not exercising because we’re tired (from the dark-induced circadian imbalances!) and then feel more tired because we’re not exercising! It can be a tough cycle when it takes hold of us. I can only do what I always do and suggest you grab your bike and get out on it! Remember, you don’t need to go for a marathon session. Nope, the feelgood effects that I mention here – the physical calm and especially the physical energizing can come from around 20 minutes of cycling. Naturally, do more, gain more. But I’m all about modest, easily achievable goals when it comes to lacking motivation. All you gotta do is decide you’re going to! 🙂
Here’s the vid from CyclingQuestions YouTube channel…
But what do you think of this all? Does it mirror your own experiences? I hope so, but let me know either way! I love cycling for so many reasons. Sure it’s tough on certain rides. Sure I gotta hack my way to getting my cycling ass out the door, specially in winter, but the benefits I’ve found are nothing short of life-affirming. I’m a cyclist ’til the end and I hope you find something of use here to you too on your own cycling journies 🙂
I’ll pick up reasons I love cycling over 50 again in Part 3. I’ll be touching on heart and lung health which is something I couldn’t be more grateful to my cycling for! How about you? What do you most love about your cycling? Love to hear, comment here or subscribe to CyclingQuestions YouTube channel to keep up to date with what’s going on, or just use the form right here below. Meantime, take care out there, ride safe, have fun and kindest, warmest regards to you, Dear Reader, David.