Cycling is more than just exercise or a fun way to pass time. For people with ADHD, it can be as good as medicine. Read this article to find out how.
Do you remember the first time you rode a bike?
When you hopped on, took off, and for a moment, felt like you were flying?
But did you know it can also work wonders for your mental health?
Cycling is proven to reduce depression and boost self-esteem. It also helps those who suffer from mental illnesses such as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).
That's right: The very instrument that makes kids feel like superheroes might actually turn out to have some pretty neat superpowers itself.
If you suffer from ADHD or know someone who does, let's take a quick spin and see how cycling can make a world of difference:
Cycling Strengthens Your Brain Connections
Turns out, that "flying" feeling you get from riding a bike is actually a result of your brain doing some impressive stuff.
While you're pushing the pedals, your brain is busy too. It's building its nerve cell projections, making your white matter fiber tracts more secure.
Let's break that down.
Your brain consists of gray matter and white matter. Gray matter is part of your central nervous system and controls functions related to muscle control, memory, speech, and more.
White matter consists of nerve cell bundles that connect the gray matter parts to each other. Sometimes referred to as a "subway system" in your brain, it's what keeps nerve transmissions quick and efficient.
So what does this have to do with ADHD?
Studies show that ADHD links to disruptions in white matter infrastructure. It can especially affect some of the larger white matter pathways.
Simply put, cycling strengthens your brain connections by strengthening your mental routing system. Some of the connections along this route are often missing or damaged in those who suffer from ADHD.
While prescriptions such as Ritalin are designed to strengthen these neural transmitters, cycling can achieve the same effect in many cases.
Simply lacing up your sneakers, putting on some tri shorts, and hitting the trails can release the same brain-boosting activity. This is a huge breakthrough considering that between 1.5% and 2.5% of school-aged children are currently taking medication for ADHD.
If you need another reason to start riding, consider this:
Cycling Builds New Brain Cells
Not only does cycling improve the connections within your brain, it also helps your brain make new cells.
Unlike your height, your brain never stops growing. Specifically, there's one section of your brain, the hippocampus, that can create new neurons your whole life.
One way that cycling helps grow your hippocampus is by building a protein within it called Brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). Studies reveal that aerobic activity such as cycling releases BDNF.
The BDNF protein is directly related to attention, development, and behavior. When it is disrupted or its signals are blocked, it can lead to multiple neuropsychological diseases, such as ADHD.
On the other hand, when BDNF levels are strong, cognitive abilities such as memory are greatly improved.
So we've talked a little about the science behind the relationship between ADHD and cycling. Now let's take a look at some other ways riding a bike can alleviate the disorder's symptoms:
Cycling Builds Focus and Concentration
Look inside any given classroom these days, and what you see might surprise you.
Stationary bikes, traditionally the stuff of home gyms, are now popping up in schools across the country. Teachers say they help kids to calm down, release excess energy, and improve concentration.
And research says they're right.
A one-year pilot program at an Arlington, Virginia elementary school revealed that when kids move and learn simultaneously, they not only retain knowledge better, but they also improve their focus and are more adept at group cooperation.
As key symptoms of ADHD include hyperactivity, a lack of focus, distraction, and inability to follow social cues, cycling is an excellent fit to combat these issues.
By providing an avenue for children to channel their energy and attention, cycling helps teachers get the most out of their time in the classroom -- and helps students get the most out of every lesson.
Yet, the benefits of cycling on ADHD sufferers don't stop here. It's also important to remember that:
Cycling Helps Relieve Anxiety and Stress
By freeing your mind of all outside distractions and powering a sharper mental focus, cycling is also an incredible way to help those with ADHD combat two other common symptoms: impulsivity and anxiety.
These symptoms are typically related to stress, yet they can't be cured quite as easily as you'd think. To reverse the pattern requires a hormonal shift, one away from tension and toward relief.
Studies show that a brief, 20-30 minute bike ride can help lower the production of cortisol. Also known as "the stress hormone," cortisol is a necessary hormone that controls how your body handles stress.
When we're stressed out to the max, cortisol is what gives us our "fight or flight" knee-jerk reaction.
Ever been so emotionally taxed and drained that every little thing sets you off and sends you into a tailspin?
You've got cortisol to thank for that.
Too much or too little cortisol can wreak havoc on our nervous system, so striking the right balance is critical here. For those with ADHD, it's especially important.
Regular, controlled cycling (not too hard, not too slow) is preferred to achieve optimal cortisol levels.
So the next time your hop off your bike feeling freer, fresher, and calmer than before you got on, you'll know exactly which parts of your body to thank.
There are proven benefits to cycling that run the gamut of physical and mental capabilities. Yet, what may be simply an advantage to a fun sport for some can be absolutely critical to someone with ADHD.
Given these facts, it's no wonder that cycling is quickly becoming an alternative to drug therapy in treating ADHD symptoms in children and adults.
So what are you waiting for?
Get out, hop on, and start moving. There's a lot riding on it.