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Cycling and mental health: Taking your brain for a joy ride.

Published Jun 29, 2023 | Updated Feb 8, 2024

The most efficient means of transport comes with big brain benefits. In terms of energy efficiency, cycling is better than walking, up to 5 times more efficient [1]. Your humble bike can help you reap a multitude of health benefits through regular cycling. Mental health improvement is one of them.  The mental benefits of cycling include better mood, stronger memory, and less stress. In fact, a study across 7 European cities concluded that cycling is the mode of transport with the most benefits in terms of physical and mental health [2]. Read on to find out 3 ways cycling benefits your brain. 

Cycling can make you happier.

There is a strong evidence link between exercise and mood. Cycling is a great form of exercise that has shown to improve mood. Depressed individuals who cycled for 30 mins x 4 times a week had a massive reduction in their depressive scores in 6 weeks [3]. Feeling low? Go for a bike ride. Cycling involves movements that promote smooth circulation to the brain, resulting in increased production of happy brain chemicals including serotonin [4]. Exercise increases the activity of serotonin brain cells, which leads to increased production [5]. This feeling of euphoria is also called “cyclist high”, similar to a “runner’s high,” where there is an abundance of feel-good emotions and relief post cycling. Cycling at a moderately high intensity for 30 minutes can lead to a boost in feel-good chemicals [6]. Another way to increase your serotonin levels is to take its direct building block, 5-HTP. Upon consumption, it enters your brain and gets converted to serotonin, uplifting your mood. The world’s smallest dense tablet of 100mg 5-HTP can naturally and safely increase serotonin levels. Read more here

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Cycling can make you stress-free.

Stress has become a normal part of fast-paced life. Cycling can help you deal with it effectively. With job pressures mounting, starting a stressful workday right can help improve productivity and mindset. Those who cycled to work reported better mood and lower stress levels in the first 45 mins of their workday, compared to those who drove to work [7]. Exercises that increase oxygen intake, like cycling have shown to reduce the levels of your stress hormone, cortisol [9] over time. Cycling regulates the way you breathe [10], which can further help in stress management. Another way to relieve stress throughout the day is to take a nutrient found in green tea, called L-theanine. This increases the relative concentration of your relaxing brain chemical, GABA, promoting relaxation without drowsiness. It acts quick so if you are facing stress at work or home, taking L-theanine can help you relax within 30 minutes of intake. Regular intake of 200-400mg L-theanine (13-26 cups of tea) for 2 weeks has shown to provide stress-relief [8]. brain feed’s L-theanine is naturally extracted from green tea and provides 250mg L-theanine from only £15.99. Additional 15% off your 1st order using code NEW15. 

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Cycling can make you smarter… under 10 mins.

An important way your brain can benefit from cycling is through improved memory and attention. The best part is you only need a few minutes. A study found that only 6 minutes of vigorous intensity cycling can make you smarter [11]. Cycling was found to increase the levels of a protein called BDNF (brain-derived neurotrophic factor), which is involved in producing new brain cells and connections, leading to better memory and learning. 6 minutes of vigorous cycling increased BDNF by 4-5 times compared to 90 minutes of low intensity cycling [11]. Cycling for 30 minutes x 3 times a week was found to improve many cognitive functions involving attention and processing speed among older adults [12]. Cycling increases blood and oxygen flow to the brain and increases brain cells production in the memory area of the brain, thus helping you get smarter [13].

Cycling benefits for brain health include better mood, relaxation and memory- for an all-rounded winning solution. Get your old bike dusted and go for a joy ride today!


  1. Exploratorium: the museum of science, art and human perception. (n.d.). Science of Cycling: Human Power | Exploratorium. [online] 
  2. Avila-Palencia, I. et al (2018). The effects of transport mode use on self-perceived health, mental health, and social contact measures: A cross-sectional and longitudinal study. Environment International, [online] 120, pp.199–206.
  3. Craft, L. L., & Perna, F. M. (2004). The Benefits of Exercise for the Clinically Depressed. Primary care companion to the Journal of clinical psychiatry6(3), 104–111
  4. Situmorang, D. D. B., Ifdil, I., Wati, C. L. S., Mamahit, H. C., & Papu, Y. M. (2021). Cycling Therapy for Reducing Psychological Problems of Patients With COVID-19: As an Alternative Treatment After Recovery. Infectious diseases in clinical practice (Baltimore, Md.)29(6), e490.
  5. Young S. N. (2007). How to increase serotonin in the human brain without drugs. Journal of psychiatry & neuroscience : JPN32(6), 394–399.
  6. Cycling Weekly (2022). A ‘Cyclist’s High’: What it is and how you get it. [online]
  7. Brutus, S., Javadian, R. and Panaccio, A.J. (2017), "Cycling, car, or public transit: a study of stress and mood upon arrival at work", International Journal of Workplace Health Management, Vol. 10 No. 1, pp. 13-24.
  8. Lopes Sakamoto, F. et al. (2019). Psychotropic effects of L-theanine and its clinical properties: From the management of anxiety and stress to a potential use in schizophrenia. Pharmacological Research, 147, p.104395.
  9. Baker, L.D., Frank, L.L., Foster-Schubert, K., Green, P.S., Wilkinson, C.W., McTiernan, A., Plymate, S.R., Fishel, M.A., Watson, G.S., Cholerton, B.A., Duncan, G.E., Mehta, P.D. and Craft, S. (2010). Effects of aerobic exercise on mild cognitive impairment: a controlled trial. Archives of neurology, [online] 67(1), pp.71–9.
  10. Holm, P., Sattler, A., & Fregosi, R. F. (2004). Endurance training of respiratory muscles improves cycling performance in fit young cyclists. BMC physiology4, 9.
  11. Gibbons, T.D., Cotter, J.D., Ainslie, P.N., Abraham, W.C., Mockett, B.G., Campbell, H.A., Jones, E.M.W., Jenkins, E.J. and Thomas, K.N. (2023). Fasting for 20 h does not affect exercise‐induced increases in circulating BDNF in humans. The Journal of Physiology.
  12. Leyland, L. A., Spencer, B., Beale, N., Jones, T., & van Reekum, C. M. (2019). The effect of cycling on cognitive function and well-being in older adults. PloS one14(2), e0211779.
  13. Karssemeijer, E.G.A., Bossers, W.J.R., Aaronson, J.A., Kessels, R.P.C. and Olde Rikkert, M.G.M. (2017). The effect of an interactive cycling training on cognitive functioning in older adults with mild dementia: study protocol for a randomized controlled trial. BMC Geriatrics, 17(1).

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