5 min read

Why biking is medically good for you

We all know we love biking and that even a bad day on the bike is better than a good day in the office, but did you know that there is medical evidence that biking is good for us? In this article LAM member and medical professional Yolande Wall looks at the medical benefits of being on two wheels

I am an Emergency Nurse Practitioner, who autonomously treats injuries in the Emergency Department, seeing a fantastic variety of trauma. And I love nothing more than getting out on a motorcycle ride. This may sound (to the uninitiated) like contradictory past-times. Indeed I find myself having to explain this apparent conundrum to patients, and health professionals, on a regular basis. But what is there not to love? Have you thought about WHY you love to ride? Is there anyone you have to justify this love to? Is there scientific evidence to account for this apparent anomaly (excepting you have the same genetic disposition as Guy Martin)? The answer is a resounding YES.

Having reflected on reasons not to ride and undertaken advanced rider trainer with LAM; you can safely relish in a pretty unique love affair. Because motorcycle riding is good for your health. I could write a small book on the subject I fear, but let me summarize below.

1. Riding a motorcycle makes you happy.

Academic Loretta Breuning, the author of Meet Your Happy Chemicals, says there’s a basic neurochemistry in us all behind feelings of a happy high. Simply put, ‘your brain spurts happy chemicals which reward you with good feelings when you do something it perceives as good for your survival’.

We have two different brain systems – the limbic system and the cortex – which keep us alive and protect our DNA. The limbic system produces the neurochemicals that tell your body what’s good or bad for you. It’s a survival mechanism: in the presence of something good, the brain releases four main ‘feelgood’ chemicals – endorphin, oxytocin, serotonin, and dopamine – and in the presence of danger, the ‘bad feeling’ chemical – cortisol – comes in.

A (LAM) rider, putting safety first, will find that with a ride out of the city - especially on a beautiful day, they increase energy levels and boost their mental health. Endorphins are released after about 20-30 minutes of a sustained pleasurable activity and the resulting positive feelings can last for up to 24 hours. If you add music and sunshine to the mix, both of which release serotonin, you have a strong antidote for depression and a healthy lust to ride again.

Dopamine, sometimes referred to as the "motivation molecule" or "pleasure compound", is released when we take actions to ensure that we survive. I am not aware of a study that has measured how much dopamine is released on a days' ride - but I can guarantee it beats eating dark chocolate or salmon. And clearly, getting a hit from riding a motorcycle, is preferable to (and less addictive than) gambling, nicotine and cocaine.

Oxytocin, the feel-good chemical, is released with social bonding activities (and snuggling someone). So it goes without saying that the social aspect of riding, is also very beneficial on a personal wellbeing level. Have you ever noticed how much better the social interaction is at the lunch stop versus the first tea break? 

 2. Riding a motorcycle makes you smarter.

As mentioned above, we have the cortex of the brain, to process thoughts and ensure our survival. The Cortex is responsible for information processing for the higher brain functions; thinking, perceiving, reasoning and learning. Our focus at LAM is on using a system (IPSGA) that not only works to improve our riding skills but that we can apply over and again to better understand the rationale behind the system. (the January 2019 issue of Progress discussed learning the model in a little more depth).

A scientific study by Ryuta Kawashima (of Brain Training/Nintendo DS fame), partnered with Yamaha Japan and Tohoku University to study the cognitive function of motorcyclists and found that it is improved in riders by up to 50%. Fact! Riding a motorcycle requires high levels of alertness and rapid problem solving that can benefit other areas of your life. And perhaps I should mention that with the increase in technology, engineering/use of apps for motorcyclists, a rider has the opportunity to develop a multitude of skills that will "keep them young" and maintain lifelong learning. 

3. Riding a Motorcycle makes you stronger.

By riding a motorcycle, you are engaging core muscles to keep the bike upright and to balance during cornering/manoeuvres. It is a low impact exercise that increases strength, especially when a little wind is factored into the journey. Neck muscles, back, thighs and knees get a workout too during a ride. It may go without saying but correct posture and bike fitting is important to engage the right muscles and to not cause strains or back pain; especially so on long rides (the subject of another article).

4. Riding a motorcycle burns calories.

Naturally, if you are "working out" you are going to increase your metabolic rate and burn fat - which happens with sustained low-impact exercise and the more intense off-road riding. This, in turn, increases insulin sensitivity. The more insulin sensitive your body is, the more effective it is in utilising carbohydrates for energy and the easier it is to lose weight (but don't be tempted to undo the good work at the next break with cake and sugary drinks)! So - get on your bike and ride - to be better version of you.

Top tip: accident statement forms

Alongside your medical kit, wet weather gear and puncture repair kit, there is one piece of essential kit needed for foreign trips that you hope you will never actually need – the accident statement form. In the unfortunate event of an accident, use of this form will simplify the process of recording the details of the accident, and might potentially make an insurance claim more likely to succeed by avoiding communication issues.

Put simply the accident statement form is a way of recording key details of an accident. It lists key elements such as the details of the other party, damage to the vehicles involved, the location and other details you will need. The key benefit of the forms is that they are bilingual – one side in English, the other side in the relevant foreign language. As such, the possibility of key details being lost in translation or, worse still not being recorded at all, can be eliminated (or at least reduced).

Various websites list the forms, however a particularly good source is http://european-accident-statement.accidentsketch.com/ Before your next foreign trip, simply print out the form in the relevant language (ideally double sided to take up less room), pack it at the bottom of your top box, and hope it never needs to see the light of day.

The source given above has most of the main European languages as well as Turkish and Japanese. There is also an English version which will be useful if you ever have an off within the UK. 

Top secret

LAM’s very own top secret, deep cover special agent, codename Double 0-125 (licensed to ride a motorcycle without L plates) has obtained some top secret materials from the training school of one of the motorcyclists sworn enemies – errant wildlife flapping about in the road, usually on a blind corner.

Every thinking rider is familiar with the mantra of “Plan for what you can see, what you cannot see and what might reasonably be expected” so these secret training materials obtained by our undercover agent act as a sobering reminder of why the mantra exists.

Remember: expect the unexpected and always be prepared and ready for any eventuality (particularly, but not exclusively, pheasants trained in the art of motorcyclist sabotage).

 


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