I wrote this article for Red Bull.. Enjoy!
Feeling stressed or anxious? Weight of the world on your shoulders? Here’s why running or cycling to work every day could be the mental boost you never knew you needed.
Millions of us are affected by mental health issues each year – at work, at home, anywhere. The NHS has revealed that the amount of antidepressant prescriptions have over doubled in the last decade, while a study in 2017 found that three out of five employees have experienced mental issues in the last year due to work.
But did you know you could improve your mental health by swapping all or some of your workday commute for a bike or some running shoes? A report by the Royal Society for Public Health strongly argued that non-active commuting is detrimental to our mental (and physical) health.
And with the return of the Red Bull Million Mile Commute – when we’ll be asking active commuters across the world to help clock one million miles in a single month – there’s never been a better time to do it.
We spoke to real life people who found active commuting impacted their mental wellbeing for the better. Because those who know just know…
1. It’s Addictive
“Once you start active commuting you are hooked. From then on, it’s a complete no brainer”, says Mieke Stones, who spent a whole year only travelling by “human-powered” means.
Initially sparked by a personal crisis, running and cycling everywhere brought her out of a dark place: “My world was turned upside down and running [to and from work] saved me from crashing to a point of no return. The best moment was cycling to and from a trail run in Kent, and placing in the top 10.”
2. Your mind is sharper
“Instead of going from my bed to the desk to bed again, I’m able to get my mind and blood flowing by walking or running four miles to and from work. I arrive feeing happier, fresher, more focused and alert,” says 9-5er Debbie Morgan.
It’s a similar story for fellow Londoner Ed Ceurstemont, whose mind has become as powerful as his quads since swapping four wheels for two: “I cycle 12 miles to and from work, two to three times a week and the days I cycle I feel more alert and mentally stimulated. I arrive to work feeling ready. The days I don’t cycle, I don’t feel half as ready when I arrive at work, having switched off in the car.”
You don’t even need to run or cycle – simply getting off at a few transport stops earlier and elongating your walk can have a big impact, as recent convert Gemma Lauren Smith describes: “Walk commuting at least two hours a day has affected me more mentally than physically. Before my walk commute, I didn’t realise how much commuting by tube and bus was affecting my mental health. Walking to work has massively affected how my day goes."
3. It’s also a lot of fun
“Active commuting has had a positive impact on my mental fitness," says Paul Robinson, who cycles nine miles to work each way, every day. "The wind in my hair and sun on my face during the better English weather, really gives me a mental lift.”
Bertie Whitley, a trainee doctor, used to get a bus from Hammersmith to Twickenham which took 1 to 1.5 hours and now cycles all over London to work: “I’m a complete covert and now cycle all over London to my work – even in the winter! Cycling outside makes a huge difference to my mental health and I feel very smug while I cycle, overtaking cars and listening to cool music and podcasts, just having a really lovely time."
4. It allows you to de-stress after work
The majority of active commuters Red Bull spoke to said they found cycling, running or walking home an invaluable time to switch their mindset off from work and clear their heads. This allows them to keep 9-5 stresses in the 9-5, and arrive home feeling calm, relaxed and ready to enjoy the evening.
“I am able to have that work/life balance. When I leave work, I leave my work problems at work, switch my mindset and clear my head,” says seasoned active commuter Georgina Jackson, who runs two miles to and from work.
5. You fit in exercise without trying
Another bonus of commuting on bike or foot is that you’ll be getting fit as you go, making it an even greater prospect for keen amateur sportspeople like Dave Ladkin: “I cycle 20 miles each way through the countryside from Guildford to Surbiton two to three times a week. Cycling into work has enabled me to stay fit and train for criterium, or crit, racing, in which you cycle several laps around a closed circuit.”
By the same token, active commutes have also helped people less into sport increase confidence, get fit for purpose and unlock goals they never thought possible. As was the case with Paul ("I wanted to become fitter and healthier, so I started active commuting and it has really made a huge difference to my strength and fitness levels - the other week I achieved a personal best in a 5km Park Run!") and Bertie (“Cycling to work helps me fit in at least 1 hour of exercise a day, which I would otherwise not get, as long working hours means I have little motivation to do exercise").
6. Financial stress can negatively effect mental health
A report by the CIPD (the professional body for HR and people development) found that one in four employees claimed their performance was affected by financial worries. A significant amount of our budget goes on transport, whether it’s buying tickets for trains or buses or the upkeep of a car. By switching your commute for cycling, walking or running, you can save a lot of money.
But don't take our word for it...
“You save money by avoiding transport and the cycle to work scheme is a huge money saver,” says Mieke.
“I would recommend active commuting because above all it is a massive money saver," adds Paul.
7. You spend more time outside
Studies have shown that spending time outside will improve your mental health, helping to fight depression, anxiety and stress and making you feel more relaxed, calm and present.
Georgina agrees: “Time outside for me is very important. I find if I’m stuck inside with no natural light and minimal fresh air, I feel more anxious and down. Just 30 minutes to one hour outside, however, makes the world of difference, helping me to clear my mind and get into the right mindset."
What's more, there's adventure lurking around every corner, as Gemma describes: “I started walking some of my commute through Regent's Park and it made a huge difference to my mental fitness…I am able to have an extra adventure on my way back from work."
8. You avoid public transport issues
“I don’t have the worry and stress of squeezing onto the tube and if there will be delays or cancellations [by active commuting]," says Paul.
Yep, another big concern and worry for commuters is whether they’re going to be late for work or a meeting due to heavy traffic or cancellations, delays and strikes on the tube, train or bus.
By walking, cycling or running this worry disappears. It’s a much more relaxing way to travel to work as you know what time you’ll approximately arrive at your destination – you never have to be late again!
“It’s much more relaxing to be able to know that when you leave your home or work, you will arrive at your destination at a certain time. Instead of worrying if you’ll be stuck in traffic or your train will be delayed or cancelled,” says Dave.