Health and fitness | 8 MIN READ

How cycling affects work performance and morale

How cycling affects work performance and morale

Weight loss. Improved cardiovascular and lung function. Muscle development. Enhanced immune system. There are so many research-backed benefits to riding a bike, it’s a wonder that anyone would need more reasons to start. Those who feel overwhelmed with everyday personal and work related stress, overwhelmed by the “not enough time in the day” syndrome or even Coronavirus-induced cabin fever, listen up: bicycling has been proven to produce positive effects on work performance in more ways than just one.

If you still aren’t sold on the idea of hopping into the saddle, then this article is for you. Scientific investigations have shown that people who are physically active, particularly those who regularly ride bikes, have stronger immune systems, less stress, and reduced risk of illness and disease. It also shows that mental clarity, attitude, and overall productivity are enhanced in those who choose to ride a bike to work. To take things one step further, the simple act of cycling can save you a significant amount of money. If you work from home, you can still reap these benefits by squeezing a pre-work ride into your morning routine.

cyclist in the woods

A bike ride a day helps keep sick days at bay

It’s common knowledge that exercise improves overall health, but statistically, bicycling seems to stand out in a league of its own with certain advantageous health effects that other physical activities don’t necessarily provide. Countless scientific investigations are revealing that riding a bike doesn’t just contribute to weight loss, increased muscle tone, and the benefits that accompany each, including less stress on the joints, more mobility, and lower levels of blood pressure and cholesterol; it affects the very nature of how we feel both physically and mentally, thereby creating a true mind-body connection. This is important because by establishing this mind-body connection, you see improvements in all facets of your life, whether personal or professional.

In fact, in a study by the YMCA, 1,000 adults in the UK were surveyed on a variety of emotional health factors, which included feelings of happiness and optimism about their futures. After analyzing the responses, the results concluded what any cyclist could and would already tell you: exercise makes you happier. In fact, people who engaged in regular exercise were found to have as much as a 32% higher overall well being score than those who adopted a sedentary lifestyle. Another study published in the Lancet complements these findings. After obtaining feedback regarding the exercise habits of 1,237,194 participants, bicycling proved to be the top preferred solo exercise, coming in second overall only to team sports, which include football and soccer. Those who adopted a regular fitness routine reported fewer poor mental health days and an overall more positive mindset than those who did not. With anxiety and depression being the leading causes of illness and disability, as well as common reasons for employee’s sick days, adopting a bike-riding routine almost seems like a no-brainer.

As a part of the Healthy Air Campaign, King’s College London, and Camden Council collaborated in a study to determine the effects of cycling on the pulmonary system and the results were fascinating: out of four assessed modes of transportation, the participant who cycled to work was exposed to less air pollution, specifically black carbon (soot), when compared to the others. Air pollution detectors were affixed to a car driver, bus driver, pedestrian, and cyclist who traveled a busy route through London and the results were surprising: the car driver experienced five times higher pollution levels than the cyclist did and three and a half times more than the pedestrian. The participant who rode a bike to work experienced the least amount of air pollution exposure. Air pollution has been linked to a variety of health conditions and disease, so it’s possible that by riding more and driving less, you might be reducing your risk of developing pollution-induced ailments.

The evidence is overwhelming: Sustrans, a bike charity located in the UK, estimated that employees who cycle to work take less than 2.5 days off from work annually, compared to the 4.5 days off that non cyclists call out. A questionnaire put out by VitalityHealth, delivered in collaboration with the University of Cambridge and RAND Europe, also in the UK, revealed that noncyclists typically lost six more days of working time due to health issues than did cyclists. Dutch economic think tank TNO reported the same finding: people who rode their bikes to work were less likely to call out of work than those who didn’t.

The common theme across the board is that cyclists miss fewer work days due to health related problems than noncyclists do. When it comes to health, there are rarely 100% guarantees. Even with no guarantees, it seems the medical and scientific communities are suggesting the same thing: when approached safely, including some exercise, particularly bike-riding, will have a positive effect on your overall well being.

Improves focus and morale and overall productivity

How you start your day determines how you will live and end it. Believe it or not, science even backs up the very notion that people’s early morning stress levels can be a strong predictor of how the rest of their day turns out. It makes sense, then, that one would strive to begin their day with as little stress as possible so that when they enter the work environment, whether it’s in an office space or at home, they’re in the right mindset. It’s important to understand a little bit about the brain and how it works to truly understand how and why bicycling has such a profound affect on work productivity.

The prefrontal cortex is the area of the brain that is responsible for memory and learning. The amygdala is a part of the brain that can make it more receptive to stress. Because frequent stress has a shrinking effect on the prefrontal cortex while concurrently making the amygdala more susceptible to it, the brain begins to struggle to function as efficiently as it would in the absence of chronic stress. Memory and learning become a struggle, as do other higher order thinking skills, such as decision making and problem solving. These cognitive struggles can lead to feelings of frustration or lack of self worth, which can in turn result in anxiety and depression. All of this generally has a negative effect on one’s work productivity and performance.

A group of cycling colleagues noticed that they had more than just the simple act of commuting to work in common; their morning rides seemed to boost their moods, reduce their stress, and put them in the right mindset to begin their workday. Their realization prompted them to further investigate and the findings were published in the International Journal of Workplace Health Management. The three authors received feedback from 123 employees from an information technology company located in one of the most bike-friendly cities in the world - Montreal. Each participant completed a questionnaire at the start of their workday that assessed their mood, commute-related stress, and subjective vitality, which is defined as a measure of wellbeing, physical health, and energy levels. Roughly 20 percent of participants commuted by bike, with 44 percent arriving by car, 34 percent by public transportation, and two percent by motorcycle, which were ultimately excluded due to small sample size. After adjusting for vitality, their findings (determined by a five-point scale) showed a significant stress difference between the three groups: car drivers averaged at 2.54, public transportation commuters at 2.25, and cyclists at 2.18. While the study involves a smaller overall sample size, the data collected is promising and is in agreement with other similar studies.

cyclist commuter

The employers also agree: a study conducted by UK organization, Cyclescheme, surveyed over 100 employers and posted their findings. 33 percent of employers suggested that cyclist employees were more productive than employees who did not ride their bikes to work, 44 percent viewed their cycling employees as more efficient, and 89% described them as more energized. According to a study conducted in Coppenhagen, after assessing over 30,000 participants over the course of 14 years, the argument for exercising before work is obvious: physically fit employees were 40 percent less likely to die during the 14 year period than those who did not, and were also reported to be more mentally alert and less likely to make mistakes. A Swedish study posted in the Journal, Ergonomics, drives this point home with its findings: physically fit workers made 27 percent fewer task errors when completing tasks that involved concentration and short term memory. This should come as no surprise, as bicycling increases concentration, improves memory, and because it enhances higher order thinking, even improves the ability to set priorities.

Social distancing. If social distancing has you working from home, you can still enjoy all the cognitive advantages that come with riding into the office; you’ll just have to map out a ride that keeps you close to home and away from others. If you find that your riding locations are still swarming with people, consider changing your ride to an earlier time so that you might avoid the post-breakfast exercise crowds.

Saves money

“I have so much extra money that I don’t know what to do with it all! I guess I’ll just waste it on doctor visits and other preventable health related expenses.” Does this sound familiar? Most likely not. No one wants to spend their hard earned money unnecessarily, particularly when the cause of their expense is an unpleasant or painful one. As mentioned previously, commuting to work by bike comes with tremendous health benefits, but those benefits are also advantageous to your finances, too.

Riding a bike to work can save as much as several thousand dollars each year in several ways, the most obvious being that you don’t have to pay for gas. The likelihood of being stuck with costly last minute car repairs, missed work days as a result of said last minute car repairs, parking and speeding tickets, and paid parking - all of which are stress-inducing - is also eliminated. Even if time isn’t of the essence, there’s always the chance that something could go wrong, either in the form of a worn out part or even an accident. Whenever possible, save that car ride for emergencies and opt for a bike instead.

cyclist autumn

In addition to avoiding automotive-related financial burdens, many commuters report savings in the form of lower medical expenses. Because people who cycle are in better overall health and have stronger immune systems, they generally see fewer doctor visits and miss fewer days from work due to illness. Fewer doctor visits and illnesses mean fewer copays to cover and an overall decrease in out of pocket expenses. Even with sick days, those who are in poor health often surpass the allotted paid days off and end up having to relinquish their daily earnings.

Taking up cycling has an overall positive effect on one’s health and well being, which can free up a good chunk of your income that might otherwise have gone toward medical costs. And wouldn’t you rather invest the fruits of your labor into something that is of interest to you or that isn’t a preventable expense?

What are you waiting for?

Driving or taking public transportation may be easier, quicker commuting options, but they’ve also been proven to be damaging to one’s health and wellness, which ultimately affects work attendance and performance. Sure, there will be days where the weather might not permit you to ride your bike, but making an effort to commute by bike or going for a pre-work ride on those beautiful days will prove to be life-changing.

While cycling can’t undo or reverse genetics or provide a miracle cure, science continues to prove that it has a profound effect on the human body. By choosing to ride instead of driving, you’re avoiding the many stress factors that are generally a part of the driving deal: sitting in traffic, contending with other drivers, and finding an acceptable parking spot. You are also likely adding years onto your life and reducing your risk of developing countless illnesses, diseases, and conditions because you are not only building your immune system, but also engaging in an activity that positively affects all of your body’s systems as a whole. Because the cognitive outcome of cycling is enhanced brain function, particularly higher order thinking, and reduced brain fog, you’re setting yourself up for greater professional success - especially if you’re currently battling the work-from-home brain fog. The fact that you’re saving yourself from having to incur preventable expenses, especially those that result from costly medical attention and treatment is an added bonus. Bicycling continues to prove that it is truly a life-changing experience.

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