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Feeling mentally exhausted? Go for a bike ride

Research shows that physical activity is an effective strategy to promote cognitive regeneration after a mentally-exhausting day

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Just like a particularly long or hard ride will result in physical exhaustion, prolonged periods of cognitive activity (like studying for a test or even just a long day at work) can lead to mental exhaustion. Many people try to counteract this by doing activities wherein they can “shut their brains off,” like watching T.V., but research has shown this typically doesn’t work. What does appear to help? Physical activity.

Get moving to regenerate your mind

A study in the journal, Psychology and Behaviour investigated how a single bout of moderate aerobic exercise could help participants recover from experimentally-induced mental exhaustion.

To do so, the researchers put participants through one hour of mentally-demanding tasks in order to induce cognitive exhaustion. Participants were then separated into three groups: one that did 30 minutes of physical activity on an indoor bike, one that did 30 minutes of a lower-body stretching routine and one that watched a popular sitcom. Before and after the 30-minute treatment, researchers assessed the participants’ cognitive flexibility performance, mood, tiredness, restlessness, self-perceived cognitive capacity and motivation.

The results showed that the group who did 30 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise recovered better in almost every category than the other methods (stretching and watching T.V.), with the exemption of tiredness and restlessness.

“In conclusion, this study suggests that a single bout of acute aerobic exercise supports regeneration of cognitive flexibility performance and of subjective well-being,” the researchers said. “This holds true not just compared to artificial active control treatment but also compared to widespread leisure time activity, namely watching TV.”

Considerations for cyclists

So if you know you have a big test coming up or an important task at work that’s going to leave you feeling mentally wiped at the end of the day, it’s not a bad idea to plan a ride afterward (even if you’re normally a morning ride kind of person). It’s important to note, however, that researchers focused on moderate aerobic activity, and if you’re feeling mentally drained from a long day at work, a hard interval workout may not have the same effect.

More and more we’re learning how physical activity positively impacts the brain, and this is yet another reason to add to the list of reasons why cycling is good for your mind.