It's no secret that cycling makes you fitter. Research shows that it also sharpens your thinking and melts away stress. Here's how to maximize the many other benefits of cycling.
By Selene Yeager, Bicycling Magazine
Every morning Canadian neuroscientist Brian Christie, PhD, gives his brain an extra boost. We're not talking about tossing back multiple strong shots of espresso or playing one of those mind-training games advertised all over Facebook. "I hop on my bike, go to the gym for 45 minutes, then ride the rest of the way to work," says Christie. "When I get to my desk, my brain is at peak activity for a few hours." After his mental focus sputters to a halt later in the day, he jump-starts it with another short spin to run errands.
Ride, work, ride, repeat. It's a scientifically proven system that unleashes some unexpected benefits of cycling. In a recent study in the Journal of Clinical and Diagnostic Research, scientists found that people scored higher on tests of memory, reasoning, and planning after 30 minutes of spinning on a stationary bike than they did before they rode. They also completed the tests faster after pedaling.
Grow Your Mind
Exercise is like fertilizer for your brain. All those hours spent turning your cranks create rich capillary beds not only in your quads and glutes, but also in your gray matter. More blood vessels in your brain and muscles mean more oxygen and nutrients to help them work, says Christie.
When you pedal, you also force more nerve cells to fire. As these neurons light up, they intensify the creation of proteins like brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) and a compound called noggin (yes, really), which promote the formation of new brain cells. The result: You double or triple the production of neurons—literally building your brain, says Christie. You also release neurotransmitters (the messengers between your brain cells) so all those cells, new and old, can communicate with each other for better, faster functioning. That's a pretty profound benefit to cyclists.
This kind of growth is especially important with each passing birthday, because as we age, our brains shrink and those connections weaken. Exercise restores and protects the organ, says Arthur Kramer, PhD, a neuroscientist at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. "Our research finds that after only three months, people who exercised had the brain volume of those three years younger," says Kramer, referring to a study that examined the brains of 59 sedentary volunteers between the ages of 60 and 79 who either did an exercise program or were inactive for six months.
A bigger, more connected brain simply works better. "Adults who exercise display sharper memory skills, higher concentration levels, more fluid thinking, and greater problem-solving ability than those who are sedentary," says Kramer.
Ride Your Way Smarter
So if a little exercise boosts your mental acumen, will going longer and harder earn you Mensa membership? Not so much, says Christie. More isn't always better, especially in the short term, he says. The same study that reported brain benefits from a short exercise session also revealed that more intense efforts can temporarily compromise memory and information processing, something Christie has seen firsthand.
Christie's teenage daughter also starts her day with exercise—specifically rowing practice, usually with searing interval sets. But instead of leaving her brain firing on all cylinders, the workout leaves her a little stalled out when she arrives at school. "Short term, you're on a U-shaped curve for exercise and mental benefits," says Christie. "Too little and your brain doesn't get what it needs to work optimally. Too much and your body has sapped the glucose and other resources it needs, so it's hindered until it recovers." The sweet spot for sharp mental acuity right after exercise is about 30 to 60 minutes of aerobic riding at roughly 75 percent of your maximum heart rate, or an effort of 7 on a scale of 1 (standing still) to 10 (going all out).
Of course, there's a lot more to mental fitness than just improving your smarts. Plenty of science backs the idea that a good ride can also have emotional benefits. Cycling can elevate your mood, relieve anxiety, increase stress resistance, and even banish the blues.
"Exercise works as well as psychotherapy and antidepressants in the treatment of depression, maybe better," says James Blumenthal, PhD, professor of behavioral medicine in the department of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina. A recent study analyzing 26 years of research finds that even just some exercise—as little as 20 to 30 minutes a day—can prevent depression over the long term.
At the moment, scientists don't completely understand the exact mechanisms, but they do know that one of the benefits of cycling is that it boosts the production of feel-good chemicals such as serotonin and dopamine. "As soon as our lab rats start running on their wheels, they get a 100 to 200 percent increase in serotonin levels," says J. David Glass, PhD, a brain-chemistry researcher at Kent State University in Kent, Ohio.
As you pedal past the 20-to 30-minute mark, other mood-lifting chemicals like endorphins and cannabinoids (which, as the name suggests, are in the same family of chemicals that give pot smokers their high) kick in. When researchers asked 24 men to either run or pedal at a moderate intensity or sit for about 50 minutes, they found high blood levels of anandamide, a natural cannabinoid, in the exercisers, but not in sedentary volunteers.
Even better, regularly riding your bike helps keep hormones like adrenaline and cortisol in check, which means you'll feel less stressed and you'll bounce back from anxiety-filled situations more easily.
The sweet spot for sharpening mental acuity right after exercise is about 30 to 60 minutes of aerobic riding at roughly 75 percent of your maximum heart rate.
Remember: Although it's healthy, exercise itself is a stress, especially when you're just getting started or back into riding. When you first begin to exert yourself, your body releases cortisol to raise your heart rate, blood pressure, and blood glucose levels, says Monika Fleshner, PhD, a professor of integrative physiology at the University of Colorado at Boulder. As you get fitter, it takes a longer, harder ride to trigger that same response. "For people who are active, it takes a greater crisis to trigger the cortisol response as compared with sedentary people," says Fleshner. "So now you can go into a stressful environment and be okay. You can endure a lot more before you kick off a stress response."
What's the cycling prescription for happiness? The authors of a recent review study on exercise and depression came up with the following guidelines to ward off the blues with aerobic exercise: Do three to five sessions a week. Each session should be 45 to 60 minutes long and keep your heart rate between 50 and 85 percent of your max. Of course, that's just a minimum recommendation aimed at the general public. You can go ahead and ride to your heart's—and mind's—content.
"Make the most of the hemp seed, sow it everywhere." - George Washington. Environmental and Economic Benefits of Hemp
Many years ago hemp/marijuana was unjustly banned. However, hemp has recently been rediscoverd as a plant that has enormous environmental, economic, and commercial potential. What follows are some fascinating facts about hemp/marijuana - facts that will shock most people:
The potential of hemp for paper production is enormous. According to the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, one acre of hemp can produce 4 times more paper than one acre of trees! All types of paper products can be produced from hemp: newsprint, computer paper, stationary, cardboard, envelopes, toilet paper, even tampons.
FACT: THERE IS NO TREE OR PLANT SPECIES ON EARTH CAPABLE OF PRODUCING AS MUCH PAPER PER ACRE AS HEMP! HEMP IS NUMBER ONE!
Paper production from hemp would eliminate the need to chop down BILLIONS of trees! MILLIONS of acres of forests and huge areas of wildlife habitat could be preserved.
Trees must grow for 20 to 50 years after planting before they can be harvested for commercial use. Within 4 months after it is planted, hemp grows 10 to 20 feet tall and it is ready for harvesting! Hemp can be grown on most farmland throughout the U.S., where forests require large tracts of land available in few locations. Substituting hemp for trees would save forests and wildlife habitats and would eliminate erosion of topsoil due to logging. Reduction of topsoil erosion would also reduce pollution of lakes/rivers/streams. Fewer caustic and toxic chemicals are used to make paper from hemp than are used to make paper from trees - LESS POLLUTION!
Hemp can also be substituted for cotton to make textiles. Hemp fiber is 10 times stronger than cotton and can be used to make all types of clothing. Cotton grows only in warm climates and requires enormous amounts of water. Hemp requires little water and grows in all 50 states! There are now many stores in the U.S. that sell hemp-derived products such as clothing, paper, cheese, soap, ice cream, cosmetics, and hemp oil. Demand for these products - not even in existence in 1992 - is growing rapidly.
Hemp naturally repels weed growth and hemp has few insect enemies. Few insect enemies and no weed problems means hemp requires NO HERBICIDES and FEW or NO PESTICIDES!
Cotton requires enormous pesticide use. 50% of all pesticides used in the U.S. are used on cotton. Substituting hemp for cotton would drastically reduce pesticide usage!
Hemp produces twice as much fiber per acre as cotton! An area of land only 25 miles by 25 miles square (the size of a typical U.S. county) planted with hemp can produce enough fiber in one year to make 100 MILLION pair of denim jeans! A wide variety of clothing made from 100% hemp (pants, denim jeans, jackets, shoes, dresses, shorts, hats) is now available.
Building materials that substitute for wood can be made from hemp. These wood-like building materials are stronger than wood and can be manufactured cheaper than wood from trees. Using these hemp- derived building materials would reduce building costs and save even more trees!
Hemp seeds are a source of nutritious high-protien oil that can be used for human and animal consumption. Hemp oil is NOT intoxicating. Extracting protein from hemp is less expensive than extracting protein from soybeans. Hemp protein can be processed and flavored in any way soybean protein can. Hemp oil can also be used to make highly nutritious tofu, butter, cheese, salad oils, and other foods. Hemp oil can also be used to produce paint, varnish, ink, lubricating oils, and plastic susbstitues. Because 50% of the weight of a mature hemp plant is seeds, hemp could become a significant source for these products.
Most hemp-derived products are NONTOXIC, BIODEGRADABLE, and RENEWABLE!
Unlike virtually all hemp substitutes, growing hemp requires very little effort and very few resources. Most substitutes for hemp (sisal, kenaf, sugar cane) grow in limited geographical areas and none have the paper/fiber potential of hemp. Hemp can be grown in all 50 states!
Unlike many crops, hemp puts little strain on the soil and requires only moderate amounts of fertilizer. Less fertilizer use results in less runoff into waterways and groundwater; therefore, less water pollution.
Hemp produces more biomass than any plant that can be grown in the U.S. This biomass can be converted to fuel in the form of clean-burning alcohol, or no-sulphur man-made coal. Hemp has more potential as a clean and renewable energy source than any crop on earth! It is estimated that if hemp was widely grown in the U.S. for fuel/energy, it could supply 100% of all U.S. energy needs!
Marijuana has dozens of proven medicinal uses. Marijuana is more effective, less toxic, and less expensive than alternative synthetic medicines currently used. A recent poll revealed that over 50% of U.S. physicians would prescribe marijuana to their patients if it was legally available. People who suffer from arthritis, AIDS, rheumatism, leukimia, multiple sclerosis, cancer, glauocoma, and other ailments can benefit from marijuana as medicine. But because of our insane marijuana laws, people in need of this medicine are denied it. Marijuana is classified by the U.S. government as a dangerous drug with no medicinal value, a classification that is absolutely ludicrous! Marijuana is widely accepted by the medical community as having numerous proven medicinal uses - it is NOT a dangerous drug.
Hemp for rope, lubricating oil, shoe material, and other materials was in such short supply during World War II that the U.S. government temporarily re-legalized hemp so U.S. farmers could grow it for the war effort. Hemp helped us win World War II! Hemp was a common crop that was grown legally in the U.S. for commercial use until 1937.
Hemp was NOT banned because it was a harmful drug. Hemp was banned because it was a competitive threat to the wood products industry and newly developed synthetic fibers that were patentable, and therefore more profitable than hemp. Corporations that profited from the demise of hemp propagated a smear campaign against hemp by claiming that marijuana use was a major drug problem (it was not) and that marijuana use caused people to become extremely violent - another falsehood. Unfortunately, these false claims went unchallenged and Congress outlawed hemp in 1937. Unfortunately, millions of Americans still believe the lies spread about marijuana/hemp.
On the eve of marijuana prohibition in the U.S., two articles about hemp appeared in major U.S. magazines. They were:
"The Most Profitable And Desireable Crop That Can Be Grown" From: Mechanical Engineering, February 26, 1937
"New Billion Dollar Crop" From: Popular Mechanics, February 1938
These articles reveal that hemp was on the verge of becoming a super crop because of new hemp processing technologies that were recently developed. Unfortunately, the potential of hemp was never reaped because of marijuana prohibition.
Hemp is legally grown for commercial use throughout much of Europe, India, China, Russia, Ukraine. In 1994 the Canadian government approved one experimental hemp field - its first legal hemp crop in 40 years. In 1995, there will be 11 government-approved hemp fields in Canada! If the U.S. does not legalize hemp for commercial use, a significant economic and environmental opportunity will be lost; the benefits will be reaped only by our economic competitors.
>Literally millions of wild hemp plants grow throughout the entire Midwest today. Wild hemp, like hemp grown for commercial use, is USELESS as an intoxicant. It makes no sense to ban growing a plant that has enormous economic and environmental potential, grows naturally by the millions, and is impossible to exterminate. But yet, our draconian drug laws state that one acre of hemp grown on a person's property can result in the owner being sentenced to DEATH! That's correct, the DEATH PENALTY exists for growing one acre of nonintoxicating weeds!
U.S. Presidents and founding fathers George Washington and Thomas Jefferson grew hemp, used hemp products, and were hemp advocates. Today's political leaders--as well as the public that favors marijuana prohibition--would treat George Washington and Thomas Jefferson with disdain, brand them criminals, and throw them in prison!
FACT: NO TREE OR PLANT SPECIES ON EARTH HAS THE COMMERCIAL, ECONOMIC, AND ENVIRONMENTAL POTENTIAL OF HEMP. OVER 30,000 KNOWN PRODUCTS CAN BE PRODUCED FROM HEMP!
"Make the most of the hemp seed, sow it everywhere." - George Washington, first president of the U.S. and hemp advocate.
SAN DIEGO - Caltrans announced today the launch of the planning process for the first California State Bicycle and Pedestrian Plan (CSBPP). The visionary and comprehensive CSBPP will focus on improving safety and access for everyone across all modes, particularly bicycle and pedestrian.
“More Californians are choosing alternatives to driving that have health benefits and cut greenhouse gases,” said Caltrans Director Malcolm Dougherty. “Caltrans will collaborate with a variety of stakeholders who have a stake in safe and accessible transportation in California.”
In keeping with Caltrans’ new mission to “provide a safe, sustainable, integrated, and efficient transportation system to enhance California’s economy and livability,” bicycle and pedestrian transportation must play a larger role in California’s transportation system.
Public participation is critical to developing a Bicycle and Pedestrian Plan that strengthens bicycling and pedestrian safety and increases opportunities across the State. To achieve wide participation, Caltrans is engaging a broad range of stakeholders through targeted outreach activities statewide.
Additionally, Caltrans has launched the CSBPP website at www.cabikepedplan.org, where visitors may take an online survey and sign up for email updates about new project information and outreach activities. You can also follow the hashtag #CSBPP on Twitter for more information.
When completed in the upcoming year, the CSBPP will help guide future investments, such as Caltrans’ Active Transportation Program (ATP), which funds projects that take cars off the road, helping to clean the air, conserve our natural resources, and promote healthier, sustainable communities. To date, Caltrans has allocated $360 million statewide in ATP grants. On Oct. 23, 114 biking and walking projects were adopted as part of its 2015 Active Transportation Program.
The CSBPP will provide a framework to guide the planning and development of non-motorized transportation on State facilities and maximize the use of future investments. It will also lead to improved connections between the State’s bicycle and pedestrian facilities with the existing network and other modes of transportation, as well as help reduce greenhouse gas emissions and vehicles miles traveled. The Plan will not replace existing policies and implementation plans at the regional and local levels.