This post may contain affiliate links, which help to keep Discerning Cyclist rolling. Learn more.
Cycling can make you smarter by boosting brain functions and improving cognitive abilities. It stimulates the release of neurotransmitters and hormones that enhance mood and mental well-being. Cycling white matter in the brain, improves memory and reasoning, and contributes to overall mental fitness.
Going for a bicycle ride is one of the best all-round examples of exercise you’ll get. I’ll bet you feel the instant gratification once your pedals start turning and your heart rate increases. And your increased efforts are rewarded instantly. Don’t you get a buzz from being out of breath?
What you might not realise is what’s going on inside your head as you clock up the miles. While you’re busy getting fitter, as we see here, you’re charging your mind, as well as your body. Didn’t think your brain would be getting a workout too? Then think again and read on.
Brain Functions While Riding a Bike
You know that sometimes you need to use your ‘noggin’ if you have to work out something complicated? Well it turns out that this slang is actually the scientific name for a protein in your brain. And it gets boosted by your bicycle ride, to help improve your learning.
Another protein boosted after you’ve been out on a bicycle ride is that other well known brain function – your grey matter. Which is an actual thing, too! It controls movement, retains memories and adjusts our emotions.
Cycling also helps your brain to grow and connect to other parts of the body. Carrying out any aerobic exercise will pump oxygen and nutrients to it, which improves its ability to increase in size, and to perform and repair itself. We look at the benefits of cycling on blood circulation here.
Neurons are made by physical activity – these are the nerve cells responsible for taking in information from the outside world, for telling our muscles what to do, and linking the railway map of our central nervous system at the same time.
“The Cycling High”
As your brain is being repaired and freshened up, you feel better and are rewarded with a wave of positive signals called neurotransmitters. These are sent by the neurons to other cells and are packed with information and hormones which make you feel good and give you a bit of a glow after a ride.
You also get a boost of anandamide – a natural high produced by the body. It’s in your bloodstream, and is also known as a cannabinoid, which influences the same part of the brain as marijuana. When it wakes up you will get a further boost (perhaps only on longer rides) of bliss and exhilaration.
Is Cycling Good for Your Brain?
You’ll earn more than just fitness and an improved engine from cycling. Your mental powers can be boosted, as your brain contains ‘white matter’ as well as grey matter. This stuff helps ‘knit’ the different parts of the brain together. Cycling is seen to increase white matter.
Let’s go to the Netherlands, where cycling is so developed as to be called an ‘over-learned’ skill, which means that most riders do not need practice to go out and ride. 48 healthy individuals chosen for an experiment showed an increase in the parts of the brain which control motor function – the part which helps you remember how to ride a bicycle, or play the piano, or catch a ball. You can read more about this here.
Does Cycling Release Endorphins?
Endorphins are hormones which your body lets go whenever it experiences stress or pain. By helping to calm those anxious moments, they also improve your mood. When cycling, you receive a hit of endorphins, and they can trigger the same areas of the brain as those painkillers you buy from the pharmacist.
Regular exercise creates new receptors for endorphins – receptors are nerve endings in your body which react to changes and act as a stimulus to make your body react in a positive way. So , if you ride more often, more of these good juices will get to your brain.
Is Cycling Good for Depression?
Cycling is a worthy tonic. Other hormones released by your activity are serotonin and dopamine. These are more of your neurotransmitters, tasked with sending messages in the brain. Serotonin is linked to happiness, focus, and calm. Dopamine is associated with reward, motivation, and being productive.
A 1991 study showing the relation between physical activity and depression reported that those who listed high activity levels were less likely to be at risk of depression than those who reported low levels of activity.
Why Does Cycling Make Us Happy?
You may or may not agree with this, but a lot of people agree with the notion that self-perception is vital to your levels of happiness and enjoyment of life. Physical activity like cycling is a driver for the positive impacts of self-esteem.
And even if you only are pootling to the shops and back or a short commute, the effects of your ride on your mood is not dependent upon the distance you travel on your ride.
Other functions of happiness linked to cycling such as gratitude, competence, savouring, accomplishment, setting targets, and even seeking risk are attached to feelings of positive emotions.
Is Cycling Good for Memory?
Your memory for cycling is built in from the moment you acquire it and is hard to shake. But does the activity itself help you to retain other information? Should you go for a spin just before an exam? Studies have shown that a 30 minute spin on a stationary bike does indeed improve cognitive functions.
You can read more about the particular study here. Cognition is the brain’s ability to acquire knowledge and understanding through thought, experience, and the senses. The study concluded that half an hour of moderately intense aerobic exercise helped with memory, reasoning, and planning, and tests taken before the ride took longer to complete than they did after the ride.
Does Cycling Increase IQ?
Ever think about how to boost your IQ? Well, you can give it a leg-up with a bit of training. While most of the benefits to your brainpower will come from activities like playing chess, reading, going to school or sleeping more – the same boosts you get do come (in smaller measures) via cycling.
Everything we’ve discussed above increases the blood supply to the brain and gives it more energy to think. The scientific studies are not as clear in linking the benefits of exercise to IQ, but you’ll be no better off doing an online IQ test than commuting on your bicycle.
So…Does Cycling Make You Smarter?
It certainly does. Adding mental benefits and pumping rich oxygen to the brain maximises the stimulants going to your mind as much as it does to your body. Our evolutionary instincts seek exercise. Cycling fills us with natural stimulants and anti-depressants and helps us to solve problems quicker.
We’ve looked into how cycling helps your cardiovascular system here – proving that cycling is good for your body’s boardroom and its engine room.