How Exercise Can Change Your Brain

Create Long Lasting and Protective Benefits for Your Brain

February, 18

by Lucas (@Cycling4MentalHealth)


Before I begin, let me introduce myself. My name is Lucas, I’m a cycling dad who is passionate about helping and encouraging people on their mental health journey. I do this by sharing my own honest life stories, as well as giving you tips and tools to help you on your journey to freedom. I live in Manchester UK, where I have been based for the last 15 years.

Enjoying very rare moment: cycling outside in winter
My background

I noticed that I was struggling with my mental health after my first child was born. I was fortunate enough to have a friend who has noticed something was wrong, and during a man-to-man chat, he convinced me to seek professional help. Fast forward a few years and I decided to use my “weakness” to help people who may have not benefitted from a helping hand, guiding them on their journey.

I decided to use my “weakness” to help people on their journey with Mental Health.

The idea of @Cycling4MentalHealth was born, with a mission to take down the stigma of mental health and I began to research ways to improve both my physical AND mental health.
So, according to research, by simply moving your body, you can create long lasting and protective benefits for your brain that last a lifetime. The 2 main parts in your brain are: the Prefrontal Cortex responsible for decision making, focus and your personality, and the Temporal Lobe, and inside that you have your Hippocampus critical for building and retaining long term memories.

After climbing few hills in UK’s Peak District had to stop for a quick shot.
2 Main Reasons:

1) A workout will instantly increase levels of serotonin, dopamine that is going to increase your mood right away. It is proven that even a single workout can shift your mood and focus attention by up to 2h. By exercising we produce new brain cells in the hippocampus area, that actually increase its volume. With bigger volume, the hippocampus area will hold your mood for much longer. To make it last a life time we have to change the exercise regime, increase our cardio respiratory function and carry on doing it. How much do I need to exercise I hear you ask, 3 – 4 times a week for at least 30min.

2) Regularly exercising will create protective effects on your brain. And just like a muscle, the more you workout, the bigger and stronger you become. This won’t stop diseases such as depression and anxiety trying to sneak in, but it will make it more difficult for them to enter.

Find more from Lucas
on YouTube, on Instagram
and follow him on Zwift by searching L Lucas(Cycling4MentalHealth)

All photos by Lucas (@Cycling4MentalHealth)

After The Container Got Smashed There Was No Going Back.

Taming Our Addictions.

November, 27th

by Mike LeBlanc (@velo_mike)

The cravings just seem to creep up on me. An insatiable deep hunger. All I can think of is my next dopamine hit. This addiction. My survival mechanism.

Bikes have always been a huge deal for me for as long as I can remember. From playing with my Evel Knievel action figure and toy bike to going on rides with my dad as a young boy, there’s just something magical about the mechanical physics of balancing a man-made machine on two wheels at speed. Pure freedom. Growing up, me and my friends literally lived on our bikes. Jumping curbs and sidewalks. Building ramps. Endlessly exploring. Riding into the sunset night after night. I had a great childhood, good friends and a loving family. But I also experienced certain consequential losses along the way. Traumas that I didn’t have the tools to properly deal with at the time.

Living in this traumatized world. A world that doesn’t foster grieving and emotional healing. An overly busy world, consumed with consumerism and the next big thing. A world that doesn’t have time for what it sees as all this emotional trauma bullshit. Living in such a world, all I knew how to do was what it taught me. Stuff it all in. Stiffen my upper lip. Suck it up. Put up a stoic front. Repress. Riding and racing bikes gave me the perfect environment to practice suppressing my emotional pain. I was even validated and idolized for it. The better I became at muffling and enduring pain on the bike, the more people paid attention to me. I felt validated, like I was winning the battle. Endurance sports are great like that. Our bodies are constantly rating our pain. Physical pain always rates higher than underlying emotional pain. For this reason, “hurting our self” on a bike seems to alleviate the emotional pain beneath it by changing our focus. The problem is that it’s only a Band-Aid, a temporary release mechanism. It doesn’t fix the problem at the source. It hushes the flames, but it never extinguishes the fire.

For me personally, everything literally came crashing down in July of 2016 during a local Tuesday night mountain bike race. On the last lap, my tired hand slipped off the bar on a rooty downhill. There was no way to save it. I tried to roll as I hit the ground. My helmet took the brunt of the impact. Hitting my head that day was the beginning of hitting my rock bottom. Concussed, I couldn’t ride anymore. Hell, I couldn’t really do anything anymore. Every single thing took so much energy and effort. I lived in a constant fog. The only time that I felt somewhat normal was when I was asleep. Depressed and constantly anxious, I was a mess. My broken brain made me feel like I was no longer part of this living dimension. Alone in this darkness. The bike racer pedestal that I once proudly stood on had crumbled and I no longer had a place to stand. Emotionally, my concussion felt like the spillage of my entire life baggage. The sealed container holding all of my past trauma violently smashed open by the impact of my fall, all of its contents scattered in a huge mess. I could no longer deny it like I had done for so long. Everything was all there before, neatly organized to ensure my survival. Now it was all exposed, disorganized and raw. The task of putting everything back in the container like it was before just wasn’t possible. There was no going back. All I could do was get really honest with myself. Completely overwhelmed. I didn’t know how and where to begin.

I started seeing a new psychologist. I did yoga. I meditated. I read books that spoke to my soul. And I slowly started riding again. My first rides were very slow and short. And still aggravated my symptoms. I was but a tiny speck of my former self. Completely deflated, the light at the end of the long tunnel was very dim. Then, every once in a while, I started having better days. Days when I was able to ride a little longer. I was also finally revisiting the traumatic events of my past in psychotherapy, slowly allowing myself to feel what I couldn’t feel at the time. I cried a whole lot. And the more that I got better at feeling, the more that I started feeling better. No shortcuts. Time doesn’t heal all wounds. This stuff doesn’t just go away by itself. To get to the other side, I had to do the work. Over 4 years later, I am feeling much better. I still get that drunk, dizzy, disconnected feeling every once in a while but now I try to honour it, as a reminder of what I’ve been through and how far I’ve come. I’m still seeing a psychologist. I’m still healing. Emotionally, I feel better than since I can remember. And that is what motivates me to continue to sit with my discomfort instead of run away from it. The process is and will always be ongoing. It’s my life’s work. The real work that makes me whole.

We’re all traumatized. Damaged in some way. It’s simply a side effect of living. For me, as my traumas accumulated, they began to angrily drive me. Infiltrating my every thought and action. Lodging themselves into every single one of my cells. Deep down, unconsciously, I hated myself because of what had happened to me. As if I should have been able to prevent it. This traumatized society. A society that prizes pushing beyond our limits, idolizes strength and speed while viewing rest, showing emotion and grief as weakness. Young and impressionable, that’s what I had learned. Hard wired for survival, my addictions are simply the best solutions that my mind could come up with at the time in order to keep me alive. Without them, I wouldn’t have made it. Some levitate towards drugs, work, sex or shopping in an attempt to fill their void. I ride bikes. Why didn’t I end up in the same situation as the drug addicted homeless beggar? I simply either suffered less trauma or I had more help and support dealing with and healing from my trauma. In other words, I just got lucky. In this sense, our addictions are actually purposeful. Even if they are mostly never sustainable.

I‘m still madly in love with the bike even if this fondness has been evolving in a different direction lately. Riding is still my lifeline, my salvation. But now, it’s on my own terms. At my own pace. Mostly alone. No expectations or agenda. Simply exploring this world that we are one with. An undying solitude seeker at heart. My racing days are over. I’m not saying bike racing is all bad. It definitely has its place in cycling and it did serve its purpose, even if I no longer see it as the best thing about our sport. For me personally, I can’t seem to race “just for fun”. The competitive aspect seems to strip too much from my experience. In its purest form, riding a bicycle is a very personal experience. We get out of it what we put into it. For me, riding makes me a better husband. It makes me a better father. It makes me a better friend. It makes me a better human.

Our addictions, our teachers. Showing us what needs attention and healing. Maybe we never completely heal from our addictions? Maybe all we can do is stop hurting ourselves by taming them?

All photos by Mike LeBlanc (@velo_mike)

Mike – An undying Solitude Seeker at heart.

My experiences from the dark side

The sun always shines somewhere.

November, 8th

by Norbert Elek ( @norbi )

When the darker days arrive, it is often difficult.
I get up in the morning, everything is in the fog, sometimes it rains.
The whole gloomy, dark mood descends on my mind, and it too gets dark.
I’m falling back.

But a small corner of my brain is already whispering, “go on the road, go on the road.” This repeats the mantra to me.
And I know it will be right: many times the city swims in fog, but I know the sun is shining up there.
I take advantage of today’s technology, quickly looking at images of higher webcams from the mountains.
And I can already see what the mantra contained: the sun is really shining up there, you have to go on the road!

I’m leaving.
It’s a fight day in and day out, somehow mapping out the characteristics of life for me.
And I know I’m braver than the elements.
It solidifies my faith, even if I sometimes sway.
As I make my way up the hill, I can already see where the border of the fog blanket is.

I got up, I still struggled with my weakness, I sucked in the energy, and happiness pervades my body and soul.
I know back, I’ll get into the realm of darkness again, but already with the experience of doing it, and I know where the way out of the darkness is.
Sometimes it’s hard, but we have to fight, we can only win at the cost of a fight.
As it is stated in one of my favorite films, “Fight up, you have to win here!

Fighters. I’m with you.
Always ahead.

Covid Travel restrictions or how we rediscovered France

A travel range of a Solitude Seeker and her husband.

September, 21st

by Valérie (@valsfactory)

We are travelers. We are wanderers.
As long as we have been together, we never went on holiday in our beautiful France.
Prices too high? Too many tourists? Depending on the season, bad weather? Maybe all of that.

This year, as for many of us, travelling, going on holiday has been more complicated than ever. Covid-19 has made it difficult to plan anything.

After a lot of consideration, the decision has been made. Why not put our bikes in the car, and start exploring France

Suitcases were packed, car was ready. Now what? Where do we start?

First stop: Auvergne
The hotel was booked while we were on the road. Let’s go for 2 nights in Clermont Ferrand.
To be honest the city has nothing special. Everything is built in those dark volcano stones, so it can easily be oppressive. But it has its charm.

The real interest in the area is the Volcanos National Park with the Puy-de-Dôme. That’s where our first ride took us.

Where next?
As we did not find anywhere to sleep in the next national park, we went straight south in the Pyrenees.
But not before making a small detour to see the famous Viaduc de Millau.

Next Stop: Lourdes
Pilgrimage city in the heart of the Pyrenees. Definitely a touristic city. Perfectly situated for our next rides.

Col du Tourmalet

Col du Soulor and col d’Aubisque

And Hautacam to finish here.

Spanish Basque country was now awaiting us. Unfortunately the weather did not play along so, change of plan.

Back to France, where a long day in the car led us to the Provence in Avignon.

Of course we had a specific ride in mind…

The Mont Ventoux…
This was the one that scared me most. But even the Mistral was blowing, it was one of the most beautiful climbs we did.

More than a week had passed, but we wanted ( more I ) to do one last stop before heading home.
Some personal challenges were waiting for me in a region where I spent most of my childhood. I wanted to climb the mountains I hiked as child, teenager and young adult.

Last stop: Hautes Alpes, Briancon

First climb right after our arrival: col du Granon
Just so our legs would know what they would be up to the next days…

Plan of the day:
Col du Lautaret – Col du Galibier – Valloire – and back.

Side number 1

And side number 2 (Yes, I am proud)

And of course we couldn’t leave the area without climbing the col d’Izoard

That climb ended our road trip.

When I look back at those 12 days, I can’t help already planning the next one.
We still have so many more regions and beautiful places to discover in France.
As the virus doesn’t seem to stop, we might have many more adventures like these in the coming months / years.

So, for once, thank you Covid for pushing us to do this road trip.

I hope I could make you travel a bit with this article. Thank you all for reading.



100 Miles

Master Your Ego Or The Road Will Humble You

July, 24th

by Kaldwell Grant ( ___fearlessleader___ )

I worship at the altar of pain. For me, the transition from something being fun to that same thing being the source of my distress is part of the allure of cycling. It’s why I prefer to ride long distances instead of short, punchy sprints. Out with only sparse traffic and my own inner monologue on these seldom traveled roads is as close to a religious experience as I’ve ever come. The ability to suffer well is what has set me apart. Today I am not suffering well. Maybe this is why sitting on a bench in front of a fueling station, 83 miles from home, sweating and trying desperately to catch my breath, I felt so utterly alone.

Growing up a black kid who was into anime and rock music, I was used to being the outsider. Becoming comfortable with that early in life prepared me for the sidelong glances that standing in queue to pay for groceries covered in head-to-toe lycra invariably bring. While my contemporaries were getting into sports or cars, I was digging through the back-issue bins at my local comics shop. All three of my brothers played football in school, I was on the Academic Bowl team. During school I carried one (of several) folders that I kept to write whatever happened to come to mind. Having my thoughts ordered has always been a strength. It has allowed me clarity of mind when others around me started to loosen the grasp on their calm.

Sitting on that bench, underneath shade that offered little relief, I got angry. Really angry. I hadn’t done enough to prepare. Maybe my fitness wasn’t at the level it needed to be for so large an undertaking. I was weak, beaten. There was no way that this could have turned out any other way. My thoughts grew dark, like so many of us do, I began to put the onus on myself. Thinking to myself “If I had prepared more thoroughly things would have gone differently”. I immediately went back to square one; mentally re-tooling my workouts, planning a new diet and meal prep schedule, even brainstorming how to drop weight to improve my power transfer.

In the summer of 2012, I bought my first road bike, a fire engine red 2012 Specialized Roubaix. I loved that bike, and the way it allowed me to experience my surroundings in a way that I’d never known. My city was familiar to me, and I had ridden bikes before, however at this speed, and at this height. This was like I was a tourist in my home town. it was possible for me to really take my time, and be deliberate in the way I absorbed my environs. I loved these roads. A little over a year later I would be lying on those very roads, less than a mile from my home, the victim of a hit-and-run on my nightly commute from work. My bike was a complete wreck, and body wasn’t in much better shape. I would spend the next 8 weeks in a neck brace. That down time allowed me a rare opportunity to reflect. In those moments, with my body only slightly less wrecked than my bike, I took from that a valuable lesson; the road will humble us all. The first thing I did when I was granted a medical release to resume strenuous physical activity was head to my local bike shop to and get back on two wheels.

Resting in the passenger seat of my support vehicle, cooler heads (both literal and metaphorical) were able to prevail. The stillness and inner calm that I’d cultivated in my youth as an outsider, that was refined while I convalesced, returned to me in that moment. I remembered that all important lesson, that the road will humble you. The realization came to me then, I had fallen victim to my own vanity. Ego had been my undoing. General Colin Powell said “Avoid having your ego so close to your position that when your position falls, your ego goes with it.” I had done exactly what he had advised against, placing an unrealistic amount of pressure on myself in the process. It wasn’t a lack of fitness, or a problem with my diet or weight. Those were the excuses I was making to myself. The problem was believing so much in my own hype that I thought I could take on 100+ miles in 107-degree summer heat and come away victorious. In my life every endeavor that was ego driven has ended in disappointment. This endeavor was no different. I was humbled yet again, my hubris brought to heel by these roads that have given me so many other lessons.

Now that it’s been a week, I’ve rested both my body and mind. I decided not to rework my entire workout regimen or diet. I haven’t focused on my weight at all. What I HAVE done is to focus on making my rides fun, getting the same enjoyment that I had early on. Going forward, I’ll still be tackling those big miles, but I won’t be putting as much pressure on myself. Maybe you’ll see me on the road one day. If you do, give a wave and remember to keep pedaling.