Monthly Archives: April 2021

Bike and psychology (2/3)

Continuing with the post series about bikes and psychology that I started here, this time I am going to write about the benefits of cycling at mental level. Generally speaking, pedaling helps build a better brain, structurally and functionally, no matter if you do it indoors or outdoors.

Beneath the brain‘s there is the white matter, which has been likened to a subway system connecting different regions of the brain. A reduction in the activity in this system can slow thinking and provoke other cognitive deficits. Some scientific studies (like this) show the benefits of pedaling. In this case, two populations were compared: healthy individuals and schizophrenia patients. In turn, they were divided into two groups, half of they were randomly selected for a six-month exercise program using a stationary bike, whereas the other half continued with its lives. Brain scans demonstrated that the group who pedaled on a regular basis increased the integrity of white matter in both healthy and schizophrenic brains.

We have a protein called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) that helps maintain existing neurons and create new ones. Moreover, BDNF collaborates in restraining some neurological diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. Studies like this one brought to light increases in BDNF levels in volunteers with either type 2 diabetes or metabolic syndrome, both groups practicing regular exercise on a stationary bike for three months.

Using bikes also helps increasing memory and reasoning. In this study young men pedaled a stationary bike at moderate intensity for 30 minutes, and completed a series of cognitive tests before and afterward. As you can imagine, scores were higher on memory, reasoning and planning, and were able to finish the tests more rapidly than before. And after pedaling for just 30 minutes!

Furthermore, a lot of studies have demonstrated that regular physical activity helps prevent stress, anxiety and depression. It also applies to bikes. For instance, this study focused on people with depression who were treated with antidepressants. After using a stationary bike for 15 minutes, their level of cortisol, a stress hormone, declined.

Most studies have been conducted for stationary bikes because of controlling the studies environment. However, cycling outdoors, specially in natural surroundings, enlarges these benefits. It is due to spending time in nature usually reduces stress and decrease symptoms of depression and anxiety. What’s more, there is evidence that the green exercise boosts enjoyment and motivation.

Related to the previous paragraph, in this study this effect was demonstrated on pedaling indoors, though this could be ironic. Specifically, scientists encouraged volunteers to pedal a stationary bike while watching a five-minute video of a green, leafy trail. Three forms of the video were shown: unedited, edited to look red and edited to look gray. Those who watched the unedited green video reported a less negative mood overall. In addition, bicyclers expressed that they felt like less work, even their heart rate and breathing remained the same for all conditions.

Additional benefits of riding a bike are:

  • It helps you sleep better: Riders who ride regularly are able to get their circadian rhythm in sync by lowering the levels of cortisol. Besides, it can positively affect brain serotonin to improve sleep cycles.

  • Creative thinking and problem-solving are also improved by cycling.

  • Studies have shown that employees who ride a bike to work are more productive. Moreover, a quick afternoon bike ride can boost energy levels and help have a more productive evening.

To sum up, mental health highly benefits from riding a bike that every person should do it on a regular basis.

Bike and psychology (1/3)

I open a three-post series dedicated to psychology and bicycle. The subject of psychology is a field so large that it can not be explained in detail here. Rather, I am going to give some broad brushstrokes.

The first one is the use of psychology as a trick to teach someone to ride a bike. In particular, I am writing about the use of operand conditioning for such a purpose. Operand conditioning is the use of rewards and punishments effectively to encourage and teach whatever behavior to anyone. This theory was explained by the behavioral psychologist B. F. Skinner in the midst of the 1900s. Specifically, he claimed that learning involves changes in behavior in response to external stimuli. Do not confound this theory with the classical conditioning which involves reflexive, involuntary behaviors.

In operand conditioning, a reinforcement is anything that encourage or strengthen a desired behavior. A positive reinforcement may be giving something that a person really enjoys after the target behavior is done. On the other hand, negative reinforcement means stopping or removing something that the person does not want. For instance, when teaching how to ride a bicycle to a child, a negative reinforcer could be a day without chores, whereas a positive reinforcer is encouraging words.

Moreover, operand conditioning contemplates punishment. Again, punishment can be positive (introduction of something unenjoyable after a behavior: use of angry words) or negative (restricting access to something enjoyable such as taking away TV or play time).

Overall, punishments are less effective and desirable than reinforcements, being positive reinforcement the most effect conditioning method. Thus, you could try to minimal punishment (better: no punishment) while teaching to ride a bike. The better strategy is reinforce each small step because every step makes a path with teaching how to ride a bike as the finish line. Such action allows teaching to ride a bike faster since the novice gets encouraged and enjoys the process. Furthermore, reinforcements should be sincere, otherwise the learner will not take it seriously.

Bicycles balance

How bicycles balance themselves has been a mystery for ages. Intellectual and curious people have studied how it is possible that you do not fall from a bike while pedaling since the nineteenth century. The bicycle self-stability was explained as the sum of the gyro and caster effects. The gyroscopic effect (gyro effect) of the spinning front wheel is described by the equation of the gyroscope behavior: The torque on the gyroscope applied perpendicular to its axis of rotation and also perpendicular to its angular momentum causes it to rotate about an axis perpendicular to both the torque and the angular momentum. This rotational motion is referred to as precession. And the bike design is to help steer the front wheel into the direction of a lean.

On the other hand, the caster effect is the measure of how far forward or behind the steering axis is to the vertical axis, viewed from the side. Bicycles benefit from the positive caster effect as their steering axis is “in front of” the vertical line.

Surprisingly, scientific studies have demonstrated neither the gyro effect, nor the caster effect are needed to balance bikes. In fact, researchers built a riderless bicycle with two small wheels, each matched with a counter-rotating disk to eliminate the gyro effects, and with the front wheel contact point slightly ahead of the steering axis, giving it a negative caster effect. They launched the bike at more than 5 mph and it balanced itself.

Researchers highlighted the importance of bicycle designs since they “found that almost any self-stable bicycle can be made unstable by misadjusting either the trail, the front-wheel gyro or the front-assembly, center-of-mass position,” the researchers explained in their paper.” (Science, April 15, 2011)

Moreover, they added “conversely, many unstable bicycles can be made stable by appropriately adjusting any one of these three design variables.” Hence, bikes design is important to maintain self-balance.