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Your Bike – Your Brain-Part 2

How Riding Your Bike Makes You Happier

By  Clair Cafaro

How riding your bike makes you happierSo now we know that riding our bikes increases brain fitness (Your Bike-Your Brain“). And you already know that riding your bike makes you feel great (those bugs in your teeth are evidence of your ear to ear smile). What you may not know is that what you’re thinking about while you’re riding and your experience on the bike actually changes the physical structure of your brain. (I’ll give you a moment to let that sink in). As author Sharon Begley points out in her book “Train Your Mind – Change Your Brain “the brain devotes more cortical real estate to functions that its owner uses more frequently and shrinks the space devoted to activities rarely performed. That’s why the brains of violinists devote more space to the region that controls the digits of the fingering hand”.

So the physical experiences we’ve had lead to more neural connections taking up more space in our brains. However, even more fascinating is that merely thinking about an activity leads to the same changes. In a 1996 experiment at Harvard Medical School, neuroscientist Alvaro Pascual-Leone had volunteers practice a simple five finger exercise on the piano over 5 days for 2 hours each day. As expected the brain space devoted to these finger movements grew, taking over less used grey matter. Here’s the amazing part, a separate group of volunteers were asked to simply think about doing the exercise (hands remained stationary) for the week, dedicating the same amount of practice time. Pascual-Leone found that the region of the brain that controls piano playing finger movement expanded in the same way for volunteers who merely imagined playing the five finger exercise. In other words, your thoughts are changing your brain. While the implications of mental practice for mastering a skill are enormous (and well documented) the skill of practicing happiness is much more elusive. The idea that happy, joyful thoughts beget more happy, joyful thoughts is supported by the Hebbian theory (Dr. Donald Hebb) of “neurons that fire together wire together”. The Dalai Lama tells us that the “most powerful influences on the mind come from within our own mind…happiness is something we can cultivate deliberately through mental training that affects the brain.” Cultivating happiness is just another way of saying “bike ride”.

Actively nurturing the positive emotions you experience while you’re on your bike throughout your day and not just for the hours spent riding, will result in more neural connections devoted to keeping you happy. Relive, time and again the sense of accomplishment, the sheer joy of feeling your heart pound in your chest as you crest that final climb just in time for the morning sun to greet you. You catch yourself grinning at the thought that you’ve just made another joyful neural connection.

Clair Cafaro
Clair Cafaro is the president of C.O.R.E CYCLING ®, an indoor cycling instructor certification program with an emphasis on authentic road riding principles. www.corecycling.ca

Check out Clair’s new e-program Winter Training For Cyclists!


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1 comment to Your Bike – Your Brain-Part 2

  • Absolutely love this stuff. It makes so much sense. It’s interesting that we are the ones in control of what we think and yet we are oftentimes skeptical or even don’t trust ourselves enough to believe it.

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