Take a Cerebral Spin

Cycling for a Healthier Brain



Monkey Business Images/Shutterstock.com

Hopping on a bicycle on a beautiful day or taking a spin class at the gym offers proven cardiovascular benefits like lowering cholesterol and blood pressure. Now, growing research shows that it also packs a powerful punch for brain health.

Aerobic exercise has been found to have the greatest impact on cognitive ability, and low-impact cycling leads the way. David Conant-Norville, M.D., a Portland, Oregon psychiatrist, recommends cycling to help children challenged by attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

Depression and Memory

“Cycling brings more oxygen and nutrients to the cells,” says Carmen Ferreira, owner of SunShine Barre Studio, in Rocky Point, New York. “When we ride our bikes, our brains also increase their production of proteins used for creating new brain cells.”

Cycling has been shown to significantly boost the neurotransmitters dopamine and serotonin, as well as brain-derived neurotrophic factor—BDNF—a protein that increases during aerobic exercise. Low levels of BDNF have been linked to obesity, excessive appetite, clinical depression, anxiety and cognitive decline. According to a 2016 study by the New York University Langone Medical Center published in the journal eLife, higher levels of BDNF help decrease symptoms of depression while improving memory function.

There is not one neurological disease that cannot benefit from aerobic exercise, from Parkinson’s disease to Lou Gehrig’s disease.
~Laurence Kinsella, M.D.

BDNF helps maintain brain health and stimulates the growth of new neurons. Pedaling regularly can fire up brain cell production by at least twofold; cycling only 20 to 30 minutes a day can decrease symptoms of depression—and might even prevent it.

Cycle for Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s Diseases

“For years, we’ve been touting the benefits of mental exercises for Alzheimer’s disease, but physical exercise is also highly beneficial. There is not one neurological disease that cannot benefit from aerobic exercise, from Parkinson’s disease to Lou Gehrig’s disease,” says Laurence Kinsella, M.D., a neurologist at the SSM Health Medical Group, in Fenton, Missouri.

According to 2017 Canadian studies involving Parkinson’s patients, cycling improved motor function during a 12-week period. The results, published in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, also show a marked improvement in gait.  

Promising 2018 research published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society reveals cycling and other forms of aerobic exercise to be the most effective activity in slowing Alzheimer’s-related cognitive decline.

Build Stress Resistance

In general, living a sedentary life sets up a hair-trigger stress response in the body, while forms of exercise like cycling help to regulate excessive levels of age-accelerating stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline. Kinsella says, “Exercise like cycling makes us channel that part of the ancient brain that helped our ancestors run from a tiger, and when we engage the brain to run, chase or survive, the aging process slows down.”

When we ride our bikes, our brains also increase their production of proteins used for creating new brain cells.
~Carmen Ferreira

Cycling can also be beneficial for people with fibromyalgia. Ferreira notes, “I have a few students with fibromyalgia who have reported having more energy, as well as better mood.”

Shorter Sessions, Better Results

While cycling can be a memory booster, it can also temporarily impair cognitive function if sessions are too intense or long. Kinsella recommends that his students work up to 75 percent of maximum heart rate. He also emphasizes common sense. “Strive for a reasonable pace, and by that, I mean ramping up your heart rate gradually over three weeks. Go slowly with beginning any vigorous exercise and accept that it will take months.” For Alzheimer’s patients, he recommends breaking a sweat with five, 30-minute sessions a week.

Ferreira also advises moderation. “Do as much as your body allows—15, 20 or 45 minutes, the latter being the duration of a full-length class. Have clear communication with the instructor to help you reach your goals.”

Whether objectives are accomplished on an outdoor or stationary bike, it is important to be consistent. Kinsella suggests making it enjoyable. “You can get on your bike and watch your favorite television show for 30 minutes or more and get a good workout.”


Marlaina Donato is the author of Multidimensional Aromatherapy and several other books. She is also a composer.


This article appears in the August 2019 issue of Natural Awakenings.

Edit ModuleShow Tags

News Briefs

Separate Workshops Help Parents and Clinicians Work with Multi-Problem Teens

Separate Workshops Help Parents and Clinicians Work with Multi-Problem Teens

August 3 and 4 and August 26 to 30
Conflict Resolution Program Seeking Workshop Facilitators

Conflict Resolution Program Seeking Workshop Facilitators

Workshop facilitator training August 9-11
Annual Tuckahoe Summer Fest Set for August 24

Annual Tuckahoe Summer Fest Set for August 24

10:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., at Depot Square
Erica Garcia to Offer Interdisciplinary Yoga Teacher Training

Erica Garcia to Offer Interdisciplinary Yoga Teacher Training

The program incorporates Iyengar, Ashtanga and Vinyasa yoga as well as aspects of life coaching.
Rhodella Hughes Completes Veterans Yoga Training

Rhodella Hughes Completes Veterans Yoga Training

“I’m honored to join their mission of supporting our veterans, families and communities.”
Screen Time Can Affect Children’s Vision and Learning

Screen Time Can Affect Children’s Vision and Learning

“Screen-related near-point work can trigger problems with eye teaming, focusing control, eye-tracking skills and a tendency towards tunnel vision.”
Intermittent Fasting Works—If It’s Done Right

Intermittent Fasting Works—If It’s Done Right

Intermittent fasting has been touted as the answer to just about every health problem imaginable.
Séance and Paranormal Investigation Return to Angel Aura Boutique

Séance and Paranormal Investigation Return to Angel Aura Boutique

6:30 p.m., August 9
All-Natural ‘Vegan Freeze’ Facilitates Cell Regeneration

All-Natural ‘Vegan Freeze’ Facilitates Cell Regeneration

“I’ve used Vegan Freeze for animal rescue and in my therapeutic massage practice, and it’s exceeded my expectations.”
Oddstock Music Festival in New Milford

Oddstock Music Festival in New Milford

August 23 and 24, from 1pm - 3:30am
Co-housing Community Underway; Green Homes for Sale

Co-housing Community Underway; Green Homes for Sale

Cohousing is a proven community design with more than 165 neighborhoods established throughout the United States and construction of another 140 underway.
Island Intimacy Retreat Set for October

Island Intimacy Retreat Set for October

October 11 to 13 on the Caribbean island of Vieques
Free Film Screening of Paris to Pittsburgh in Scarsdale

Free Film Screening of Paris to Pittsburgh in Scarsdale

7 to 9 p.m. on September 11
Soul Alignment Coaching Program Offered in August

Soul Alignment Coaching Program Offered in August

“I believe that when we consistently vibrate at the frequency of our higher self, everything else follows.”
CranioSacral Therapy Can Ease Back-to-School Anxiety

CranioSacral Therapy Can Ease Back-to-School Anxiety

Children and teens often have increased anxiety and could benefit tremendously from CranioSacral Therapy’s gentle balancing of the central nervous system,
Popular Non-GMO Corn at Three Feathers Farm

Popular Non-GMO Corn at Three Feathers Farm

Open seven days a week, from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Wassaic Project Summer Festival  Showcases Emerging Artists

Wassaic Project Summer Festival Showcases Emerging Artists

August 3, starting at noon, at the Luther Barn Field, in Wassaic.
Hudson Valley Expo Returns to Peekskill August 3

Hudson Valley Expo Returns to Peekskill August 3

1 to 10 p.m.

Race Two of Westchester Corporate Cup Set for August 15

All proceeds go to the Hope Community Services, a New Rochelle-based organization that’s become the largest emergency food pantry and soup kitchen in the region.
Planetwatch – August 2019

Planetwatch – August 2019

Stony Kill’s Annual Butterfly Festival Set for July 27

Stony Kill’s Annual Butterfly Festival Set for July 27

11 a.m. to 3 p.m. July 27
Awaken Wellness Fair Returns to New York City

Awaken Wellness Fair Returns to New York City

10 a.m. to 5 p.m., July 28
Integrative Nutrition Wellness Coaches Join Katonah Podiatry

Integrative Nutrition Wellness Coaches Join Katonah Podiatry

“We work with clients to help them create happy, healthy lives in a way that is flexible, fun and self-fulfilling, through nutrition and lifestyle changes."
New ‘Medical Medium’ Book Focuses on Celery Juice

New ‘Medical Medium’ Book Focuses on Celery Juice

"It’s become clear that drinking celery juice to improve health is no passing fad."
Organic Hair by Helen Adds New Color Lines

Organic Hair by Helen Adds New Color Lines

She chooses products that use natural ingredients and create natural-looking results.
Spirit Festival Announces Presenter Lineup

Spirit Festival Announces Presenter Lineup

September 13 to 15
Live Sound Healing Concert at Golden Prana in Katonah

Live Sound Healing Concert at Golden Prana in Katonah

from 7 to 9 p.m. July 10
Next ‘Food Truck Friday’ Set for July 19 in Pound Ridge

Next ‘Food Truck Friday’ Set for July 19 in Pound Ridge

Add your comment: