5 ways to wellbeing is an evidence based framework devised by New Economics Foundation (NEF). I came across it at a consultation workshop through my day job, and I was amazed that cycling ticks every single box.
The North Wales Social Services Improvement Collaborative (NWSSIC) is looking to establish a common framework across North Wales for all agencies to sign up to.
Ambitious, but why not?
For me, the big advantage would be the shift to more population level outcomes reporting. Performance management should focus on outcomes – what difference do services make to people’s lives? Instead they focus on aspects of processes, such as timescales.
Easier to measure. Ho hum. By collectively signing up to population level outcome measures, we keep track of the wellbeing of the population, not the efficiency of organisational procedures. It opens up the potential for collaborative improvements.
The outcomes data belongs to everyone, and we all ask ourselves “what part do we need to play in improving things?”
As our facilitator took us through the model, I found myself reflecting on how my cycling habit has changed my own wellbeing over the last three or four years. I realised that at one level or another, cycling ticks all the boxes.
Could cycling be the super-activity to wellbeing?
[Tweet “There are 5 ways to wellbeing. Ride a bike and have them all”]
So, what are the 5 ways to wellbeing?
There is strong evidence that indicates that feeling close to, and valued by, other people is a fundamental human need and one that contributes to functioning well in the world.
This is about connecting with people, and that can include digital too. On the road, there’s the obvious camaraderie between riders. We wave and smile at strangers (well, most of us do). If you’ve joined a cycling club then you’ll have met lots of new people and made new friends. There’s the online side of things too, with various cycling fitness sites that incorporate a strong social element.
Regular physical activity is associated with lower rates of depression and anxiety across all age groups.
This is the obvious no-brainer, isn’t it? Cycling at any intensity will have beneficial effects, like slowing age-related cognitive decline and promoting general well-being.
Not to mention the obvious physical benefits like improving your cardiovascular system and muscle tone.
I always remember a story I read in a cycling magazine from a reader (an older gentleman) who had needed some serious surgery. He’d been told by surgeons that he had only survived because years of cycling had conditioned his heart and lungs to be as efficient as they could be, which at his age, gave him a massive advantage on the operating table.
Studies have shown that being aware of what is taking place in the present directly enhances your well-being and savouring ‘the moment’ can help to reaffirm your life priorities.
It can seem a little introspective, this one. When I’m on my bike, I get so many of these magic moments. You’ll know the sort of thing I mean – the sound of the birds, the flicker of sunlight through the trees, the smell of the honeysuckle in the hedges (my personal favourite).
The introspection can go even deeper too, in the quasi-meditative state you can find yourself in, especially on a long steady climb. I often find myself mulling over various issues when I’m in this zone, and it’s amazing how many inspirational ideas come to me. Solutions to problems, creative ideas; it’s incredible what can arise from this peculiar mental place.
Another way to achieve this on the bike is to develop an exploratory approach to your riding.
Go somewhere new. Take that turning you’ve never been down.
Seek the unknown. It’s all good.
Continued learning through life enhances self-esteem and encourages social interaction and a more active life. Anecdotal evidence suggests that the opportunity to engage in work or educational activities particularly helps to lift older people out of depression. The practice of setting goals, which is related to adult learning in particular, has been strongly associated with higher levels of wellbeing.
Since getting into cycling, I’ve learned loads. Not just boring mechanical stuff like how to swap a cassette, or figuring out how to navigate with a Garmin Edge 800.
By being active, I feel like I’ve woken up from some kind of slumber. I’m more engaged, more willing, more creative, more receptive, more alive… Achieving goals, like your first century ride, or beating your personal best at a time trial, provides a sense of achievement and validity.
Participation in social and community life has attracted a lot of attention in the field of wellbeing research. Individuals who report a greater interest in helping others are more likely to rate themselves as happy. Research into actions for promoting happiness has shown that committing an act of kindness once a week over a six-week period is associated with an increase in wellbeing.
This one overlaps a little bit with the first one, Connect.
There are cycling clubs everywhere; groups of friendly people you can ride to a cafe on a Sunday with, and have a laugh. There’s usually plenty of opportunities to do the helping bit too, whether it’s offering advice to newbies, doing your bit to help someone up the hills, or rescuing someone with a mechanical issue or puncture. Not forgetting the mass of online support and help that cyclists give each other through hundreds of blogs, message boards, facebook pages and so on. Here’s how I felt about it one year after joining my local club.
[Tweet “There’s more to cycling than pedalling a bike. 5 ways to wellbeing”]
Next time you swing your leg over your saddle, have a think about all the ways in which you benefit, and how much cycling helps your wellbeing.
As regular cyclists, we take for granted all the benefits it brings, but imagine what impact it would have on your life if you stopped riding altogether.
If you’re reading this because you’re looking for an activity to help you get fit, or feel better about life generally, you won’t be disappointed. The gains will be so much more than you can imagine right now. Go for it!