Mountain Biking and Mental Health
Following the publication of an article on the BBC which spoke of the huge benefits mountain biking can have for your mental health, MountainBikeNI wanted to delve a little deeper into the many potential benefits of the sport we love.
The stats on mental health can be quite scary. One in four people will experience a mental health condition at some stage in their life, and if anything, those figures are slightly higher in Northern Ireland than elsewhere in the UK.
Mountain biking should be fun above all else
A specialist in mental health (and avid mountain biker), Eamonn Duffy spoke to MountainBikeNI about some of the many benefits mountain bikers experience:
“In recent years, the positive impact regular exercise (like mountain biking) can have on our mental health is an increasingly researched topic. It is well documented that regular exercise can promote good mental health via reducing social isolation, promoting the release of endorphins (or your ‘feel good’ hormones) and promoting a healthy weight which in turn improves self-esteem and confidence, alongside much more.”
An Outlet for Stress
One of the most commonly identified ways in which mountain biking improves mental health is by providing an outlet for stress. This was a recurring theme amongst MountainBikeNI followers, who contacted us in their dozens to agree with the findings.
One rider wrote about how mountain biking was a healing factor for him as he and his partner go through their first round of IVF.
“I’ve been welcomed into a few groups and have ‘cycling mates’ who support each other in WhatsApp groups, and who I’ve been able to vent while huffing and puffing my way up fire roads. As a man in my 30’s, that outlet is invaluable, and getting into the habit of talking over where my head’s at is something I know can help in all aspects of life.”
Exercise, being with nature and the satisfaction of a good spin are all beneficial to mental health
Another explained how it gave him ‘smiles per miles’ after having suffered with depression for years. “For me it was a way of relaxing…and leaving everything behind. It gave me something to focus on. Now this year I’m racing in a XC fat bike race for 6 hours. Life’s good, I’m on the up. Everyone who is trying hard to get back to themselves… you can do it. It’s hard yes, but it can be done.”
Work too can play a big factor. Desk jobs can result in a sedentary lifestyle that’s hard to combat. As one mountain biker put it, “I try not to let my work overpower me nor take it home, but sometimes that just doesn’t happen… For me MTBing is my release.”
The social side of mountain biking can be just as important as the physical benefits. Making friends can be difficult as an adult as most people don’t even know where to begin. In the world of mountain biking it is relatively straightforward.
There’s something about mountain biking that makes it easy to speak to complete strangers
Meet someone once or twice on your local trails and the next thing you know you’ve been added into a message group of 40 likeminded people probably in a similar situation – just looking for someone to ride with. Don’t be under the assumption that everyone in that group is a high flying, super shredding DH or EWS champion. In reality, they’re likely in the same boat as you.
You can also begin to meet other mountain bikers by joining the MountainBikeNI Trails Team, sponsored by Chain Reaction Cycles. This group meets up a few times a year to help with trail maintenance and litter picking.
As another MountainBikeNI commenter put it, “The social side to mountain biking is fantastic. A big problem in your head going out for a ride, shared with a mate might turn out to be a small problem. A different outlook on a solution to problems, maybe some ideas you hadn’t thought of. The biggest thing is chatting – it doesn’t even need to be about problems or issues, just talk.”
If you need help making that first step into mountain biking, one great resource can be found in the organisation Mind Your Mate and Yourself, formally known as PIPS. They organise a men’s group to ride the Castlewellan Mountain Bike Trails every Wednesday. If you’d like to join, simply turn up at Life Adventure Centre in Castlewellan at 9:30am any week. A Ladies group will also be starting at the end of May. For more information on this, follow their Facebook Page.
Some of those who attend the group told MountainBikeNI how beneficial it was. “It gives structure to my week… gets me out, breathing fresh air, burning fat and gaining muscle.” “Keeps me from becoming isolated”.
Some of the Men’s Group from Mind Your Mate and Yourself
Other resources available include:
– Aware (another excellent national organisation which provides help for people with depression)
– Stop, Breath and Think (a mindfulness based app to help with anxiety and depression)
– Lifeline (excellent for a listening ear and advice. They can signpost you to appropriate agencies and / or provide free counselling sessions).
– Samaritans (also great for a listening ear / advice and signposting)
We would like to thank Eamonn Duffy for his invaluable input, Jill and all the team at Mind Your Mate and Yourself, as well all the mountain bikers who wrote to us to tell us their stories. Also to the team at Arc Fitness, dedicated to addiction recovery through fitness coaching.
If you would like to create a MTB group or find one in your area, you can visit MountainBikeNI or contact us and we’ll assist you with connecting with others.