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Cycling: 10 Health Benefits

All exercise offers some health benefits. But, since it is summertime, let’s focus on some of the lesser known benefits of cycling. Consider dusting off your bicycle and heading out to the hills. You may have a desire to after you read about some of the top health (and other) benefits of this timeless sport.

  1. Lung and brain power. Cycling pushes your cardiorespiratory system hard, improving oxygen and blood flow. A strong cardiovascular system makes you ‘fitter’ and able to do more with less effort, including running up those stairs. Blood flow to the brain stimulates brain receptors, possibly reducing the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.
  2. Better mental health. Moderately intense exercise, such as cycling, promotes mental health and it is one of the best options for managing stress. You will get the ‘runner’s high’ or feeling of euphoria, without the joint pounding of running.
  3. Explore more. You can cover more ground in a workout than with other options and explore more of your local/regional area. Walking and hiking are fantastic, but on 2 wheels you can cover more ground and go farther.
  4. You can do it socially. You can do with with friends or a group/cycling club. It can be a social sport. And those that devote time to socializing and establishing bonds (in addition to exercise) enjoy stronger immune systems and lower blood pressure.
  5. You can burn more fat. Your body’s metabolic rate increases not only during the ride but for hours after cycling. As you become fitter, the ‘after burn’ lasts even longer.
  6. Improves digestive health. It promotes gut health by decreasing transit time of waste removal through the body. This means less constipation, softer stools and feeling less bloated.
  7. Good for compromised knees. Cycling is often recommended for arthritic knees or for post-knee-injury cardio exercise. Cycling uses several different leg muscles and emphasizes slow, controlled movements. Your knees work from different angles with each stroke and the demand of work changes with each degree of change through a rotation.
  8. Environmentally friendly. Cycling reduces your carbon footprint. Because you are on two wheels, you can go further in less time. Cycling can get you where you need to go (often or on occasion) in place of your car. Fewer cars on the road mean less pollution.
  9. Good training and conditioning for other sports. Cycling keeps your body fit. Studies have shown that regular cycling improves performance in sports such as tennis and soccer. You get strengthening benefits with cardio training.
  10. It is fun. Whether you cycle alone, with a group or with your family, it is reminiscent of childhood. Remember coasting down the hills feeling the wind on your face. The sense of control but also freedom, as if you’re leaving all of your worries behind? You can feel that way every time.

Emotional stress busters

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), stress is “a natural human response that prompts us to address challenges and threats in our lives.” It’s not always negative but can be positive and motivate you to get things done. Emotional stress refers to stressors and situations that evoke an emotional response, such as sadness, anger, worry and fear. Common to everyone at one time or another, when the stressor underlying the emotion interferes with daily activities, it can be problematic. Here are three simple tips for helping you manage emotional stress.

  • Take action on tomorrow’s worries: If you find yourself getting stuck in “what if” thinking, take action. Consider writing down all the ‘what if’ worries and topics that are of concern, then add what you would do if if the each comes to pass. Writing down worries helps to ease them while providing you with a practical action plan.
  • Reflect: Take 5 minutes to reflect on your life. What are you proud of? What has been your best achievement? What gives you joy? Purposefully thinking good thoughts, reflecting on the positive improves mood and outlook. 
  • Smile: Reflect on your week and write down 3 things that have made you smile. Keep in mind that it takes nearly 50 muscles to frown and less than 15 to smile. 

Depression: Foods that Fight Depression

Depression and Diet

Depression is a serious condition and should be treated/diagnosed by a qualified health care professional. If you are struggling with mild depression, particularly seasonal affective disorder (SAD), look to your diet. Did you know that nutritional deficiencies can increase your vulnerability to mood changes and mild to moderate depression? Certain nutrients, such as carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals, found in healthy foods, can alter your brain chemistry, which plays a large role in your overall mental health. In addition to complex carbohydrates, certain B-vitamins, iron and omega-3 essential fatty acids are all important nutrients in your quest to help alleviate mild depressive symptoms.

Depression: Recommended Foods & Nutrients

Complex carbohydrates –pasta, potatoes, whole-wheat bread, cereal and brown rice contain tryptophan, an amino acid that converts to serotonin in the brain, a chemical that helps regulate mood, appetite and sleep. Elevated levels of serotonin in the brain are associated with happiness and a positive mood, not depression. Try starchy, root vegetables as well such as turnips, sweet potatoes, rutabagas, corn and squash.

Iron- iron deficiency symptoms are not unlike those of mild depression: an inability to concentrate, feeling sluggish/irritable and fatigue. Make sure you consume foods rich in this important trace mineral. Good food sources include lean meat, fortified cereals, prunes and other dried fruits, seafood and dark green veggies.

B-vitamins- Folate (vitamin B9) and vitamin B6 are essential for producing a class of brain chemical messengers that influence behavior, one of which is serotonin. Eat plenty of vitamin B6-rich foods, such as fish, poultry, bananas, nuts, potatoes and whole grains. Folate deficiency can contribute to depression. Think ‘greens and beans,’ and concentrate on fortified cereals, broccoli and spinach and orange juice for folate. Keep in mind that cooking destroys folate.

Omega-3 fats- those that consume oily fish, such as tuna and salmon, regularly have particularly low rates of depression. All seafood contains some omega-3 fats, a class of polyunsaturated fats necessary for the health of both the cardiovascular and nervous systems. Omega-3 fatty acids in fish also trigger the production of serotonin. Non-seafood sources of omega-3 fats include walnuts, flaxseeds and canola oil.