Your Brain on Riding
Words - Cam McRae
Posted by email@example.com
March 4th, 2015
My early-onset fear of dementia made the click bait irresistible. It was probably something like “8 ways exercise crushes Alzheimer’s.” I wasn’t surprised to learn that moving our bodies can slow the graying of our gray matter, but there was one interesting point. Research suggests that making improvements in your activity of choice is essential; when you hit a plateau the benefit to your synapses and cortices also flatlines.
This got me thinking about riding bikes and how it might keep us sharp. But not just riding bikes, or just riding mountain bikes; riding trails that challenge us and make improvement essential.
When I was younger and even stupider my short attention span craved trails that were like video games; drops to flat, challenging skinnies, steeps that scared me. These were binary operations in that you attempted something or you didn’t, and you were successful or you weren’t. You can’t almost make a six footer to flat, or a skinny 8 feet off the deck, so the ride was evaluated with crude checks and crosses. Progress was hard won but easily measured. There were great rides or shitty ones but very few in between.
Pass or fail tests are less common now. There are still some moves I won’t try, when it feels like my brakes are mounted back to front. And there are awkward climbs that I only get half the time as well, but generally it’s feel and speed that leave the greatest impression. And it’s actually easier to determine the general trend than it used to be, as long as I’m riding challenging trails.
These days I experience a constant state of expansion and contraction. Returning from time off the bike, from injury or illness or weather, hits the reset button. Tech climbs I’d mastered can seem impossible. My timing is off, muscle memory gone and my lizard brain, sensing diminished capacity, slows me down further. But gradually, if all goes well, I remember how everything works and start to claw back. Returning to square one counts as improvement, if not progression, doesn’t it?
And improvement is the Holy Grail. What feels better than ramping up several rides in a row? Surprising yourself by nailing moves you had no idea you could make, or carrying speed where you normally flail. And best of all, beating your buddies to the bottom. On those days I begin dreaming about going pro mid ride, imagining a Red Bull sponsorship after winning Rampage (Aggy and the Claw hoisting me on their shoulders), signing autographs at Interbike – and then my rear wheel bounces off my helmet after I endo into a puddle.
A friend who works with Shimano recently explained the principle of Kaizen. The concept was actually brought to Japan by American business consultants after WWII and many think it factors into the success of companies like Toyota and Shimano. Kaizen literally means change for the better, but now the term, according to Wikipedia, “is typically applied to measures for implementing continuous improvement.” Small changes, piled on top of one another, that over time yield large results. We all want that don’t we?
I’ve found a few things that consistently blow me out of the riding doldrums. The easiest is a little off bike training. Yoga always produces results for me, especially when augmented by pushups and core work. Taking a lesson always pays huge lasting dividends and, if all else fails, I go back to hardtail school. Stupid bike tricks, like wheelie practice, track stands and balancing on curbs can fine tune our balance on the trail – the way juggling a ball helps soccer/football players score goals .
Kelly Sherbinen from Endless Biking, a guiding and instructional firm here on the Shore, gave me another key to Kaizen on the bike: “Sometimes you need to slow down to go faster. Focus on good technique and being dynamic on the bike, creating muscle memory. Then increase your speed and feel the magic happen.”
Ah, the magic! The intoxicating elixir of improvement that keeps us coming back to the bike. And wouldn’t it be a bonus if the focus and commitment required to get a little bit better, ride after ride, could counteract all those bumps to the head? One more reason to keep those cranks turning as long as the heart pumps and the lungs fill.
Gnar Weasels the fourth mountain bike race in the Kenda Cup Series will be hosted at local MTB spot DH
This race should bring out a cast of characters from all over New England with its central location minutes from 95 and 495
Rumors of a Tinker Jaurez sighting have been murmured in post race musings In any event this venue will get noticed and the talk will be of its climbs and gnarly decents when the final racer finishes
Be sure to register on https://www.bikereg.com
Our first summer bike camp went well this week.
Kids had a blast and everyone seemed genuinely happy with the venue. DH is becoming quite the place for mountain bikers in New England 15 kids of various ages and abilities started the week out as strangers quickly became a group of enthused riders who not only shared the trail but new knowledge of fixing bikes trail etiquet and safety
Of course ramp construction and jumping rounded out the week This was a great group of young riders who will be venturing off on their own soon with a new appreciation for trail riding and a love for biking
One of the most frequently asked questions we get these days is whether our work at the Congressional level is relevant and valuable to local cyclists.
Fortunately our Vice President of Government Relations, Caron Whitaker, was on top of the action in Congress, and working with Margo Pedroso, of the Safe Routes to School National Partnership, and key Congressional offices managed to flag the issue and rally members of Congress to defeat the amendment by just 2 votes – 212-214.
Thank you for your support of our work. Please donate today to help us sustain this important work and, with you, build a bicycle-friendly America for everyone.
ORIGINAL ARTICLE BY Chris Daniels
According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) affects people of all ages worldwide and is one of the leading disorders diagnosed in childhood. The characteristic behaviors of ADHD include varying grades of inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity. While these behaviors may seem normal for any school-age child, in diagnosed ADHD they usually present to a degree that somehow impairs cognitive, emotional, social, and/or physical function. The average age onset of ADHD is 7 years old, affecting about 11% of American adolescents with boys being 3-4 times more prone than girls. While it remains unclear what causes ADHD, perhaps more troubling is the inability to explain why the number of school-age children diagnosed with this disorder is climbing. The rate of ADHD diagnosis increased from about 3% per year from 1997 to 2006 to 5% per year between 2003 and 2011.
Treatment for ADHD focuses on the management of symptoms, and most guidelines suggest a combination of medication, psychotherapy, and social skills training. Suprisingly, drugs that stimulate the brain such as methylphenidate and amphetamine (Ritalin and Adderall, respectively) are the most commonly-prescribed pharmaceutical agents used to attenuate behaviors associated with ADHD. While drug treatment has been shown to be up to 80% efficacious in children with ADHD, there is some controversy regarding the benefits of pharmaceutical intervention beyond just two years of using any current ADHD agents. These stimulants are also not without drawbacks, such as the relatively high cost, routine management of dosage, and side effects including but not limited to: decreased appetite, insomnia, headaches, heart palpitations, and tics.
The park is mightier than the pill
Emerging research applying physical exercise as an alternative treatment for ADHD has consistently produced positive results. According to Acta Paediatrica, a handful of focused, peer-reviewed studies within the last 10 years have found that several different exercise designs can improve cognition, enhance motor and social skills, and attenuate impulsive behavior in children with ADHD. In a 2010 study, the Journal of Sports and Exercise Psychology observed walks in the park to be as potent as two doses of medication with respect to enhancing concentration. Not only does it ameliorate specific symptoms of ADHD, but exercise staves off obesity which, as reported by the American Physical Therapy Association, is more prevalent among people with attention disorders. Despite this growing body of evidence, further research is warranted to clarify the type, intensity, and frequency of exercise required to positively impact impairments caused by ADHD. And who better to lead the way than one of cycling’s industry leaders: Specialized.
In 2012, Specialized Bikes and RTSG Neuroscience spent five days a week for a month measuring the effects of cycling in two groups of Massachusetts middle school-age children who were either diagnosed with or displayed ADHD-like symptoms. Outcomes identified were cognitive, emotional, social, and physical status before, during, and after the program, and researchers concluded that cycling…
To be fair, research funded by an industry standing to gain from its findings presents a conflict of interest and, therefore, becomes a limitation to the study itself. But in 2011, the pharmaceutical industry alone spent $39 billion for research in the U.S., which was $8 billion more than than the National Institute of Medicine. How’s that for conflict of interest?
While the source of funding (not growing on trees) will invariably be weighed against the validity of results, isn’t it about time the money come from somewhere else, providing a potential cure free of side effects and at the fraction of the price Big Pharm can offer?
Beyond the argument for what constitutes valid research or questioning vested interests is the story of Specialized CEO Mike Sinyard’s own life-long dealings with ADHD. Sinyard says his symptoms would subside after riding his bike, and he noticed a similar pattern with his son who also suffers from ADHD. After being further inspired by a Bicycling Magazinearticle entitled “Riding Is My Ritalin,” he decided to further explore the connection between bike and brain.
Furthermore, researchers involved in the early Massachusetts findings have reason to believe there may be an advantage to how cycling-specific exercises impact the power of the brain. According to Sports Psyhcology expert Dr. Lindsay Shaw Thorton:
“The findings also indicated there may be factors more unique to cycling that make it especially effective when it comes to the brain benefits of exercise. Factors like maintaining balance, being outdoors, riding in groups, and the rhythmic motion of pedaling we theorize may have contributed to our findings being so profound”
Ritalin? Or ride?