Cycling for my Mental Health – Darren Lee

A band showing brand colours of CicloZone, an indoor cycling app

Over the many years that I have been cycling, I never really understood the problems concerning mental health and the stresses and strains that life can place upon an individual. I mean, it just wasn’t something I was subjected to and certainly wasn’t something that concerned me very much… until recently. 

Obviously during the pandemic there was a huge strain on people’s mental health and I have to be honest, for the first time in my life I experienced this myself. Feelings of anxiety, frustration and an overwhelming worry was stopping me sleeping and affecting my concentration and attitude towards even simple everyday tasks. Even the weekly shop was causing me problems. 

Being the eternal competitor, I have always seen a problem, worked out the cause, and trained for a solution. This was exactly what I started to do, to discover why I was suffering from this new sensation now at the age of 50 years old… I mean I had lived a life which involved owning my own businesses, raising two children, marriage and divorce and although these things were stressful I never felt them affecting my mental state or my ability to control or handle situations. So, when I felt these lockdown induced moments of anxiety, my reaction was, as always, to get on my bike in my pain cave and ride. 

Whether it was the release of endorphins, or the simple comfort in the act of riding a bike, I found it alleviated and lifted the cloud that descended upon my closed world and at least allowed me to focus on my day ahead. 

I started to pay more attention to how my mind acted when I started riding the bike. Was it the music I was listening to while I rode, or the increased heart rate that allows blood to flow more readily to my brain, or maybe the simple fact that I had to be so focused on the physical work I was doing, which didn’t allow my brain to engage in the anxiety or the worries. I found that even preparing for my bike ride by putting on my bib shorts, or tightening up my cycle cleats immediately started the release of the anxiety and when cycling it was obvious that very quickly as physical stress increased the mental stress started to decrease. I found the more technical the ride and the more I concentrated on the ride data information in front of me on my tablet screen, the more absorbed I was in the ride and the more removed I was from my anxieties. Trying to stay on the correct Cadence and the correct intensity and making sure I concentrated on my recovery periods all helped to empty my negativity and reinforce positive thoughts in my mind. It was the understanding of the science behind my cycling that focused my mind more on the activity, which gave me the release mentally. 

My knowledge of muscle recruitment and energy system development for me is second nature when riding a bike, and the simple fact I was always taught that the best way to ride a bike is in a calm and relaxed mental space even in moments of extreme physical stress was now proving to be one of the biggest benefits of my cycling. 

Yes, I was getting a great physical workout but this was really helping me in a much bigger way. It was then I realised that the reason for years I had never really suffered from the anxiety and worry of life was because I always had cycling, which had, until now, unknowingly acted like a huge reset button everyday.

Now I don’t just cycle for my fitness and I don’t just cycle to try to keep my body from looking like a 50 year old body, I also cycle because I know categorically that it helps my mental state and certainly places me in a much better and more focused position to concentrate on the very important things that are going on in my life at this time while building my new company. 

When I first began my new business I threw myself 100% into the process, 10 hours a day 7 days a week and I didn’t ride anywhere near as much a had for most of my life. I now realise this was a mistake, and I now set time aside for my bike, every day. I know now to optimise my potential and to increase my productivity requires a happy and stable mindset… and for that, I need to do only one thing… RIDE. 

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