Part one in a four-part series 'Boost Your Mood'
Think of the last time someone asked how you were. Did you answer ‘Oh, you know, keeping busy!’? This has become a standard answer but the truth is busy-ness is linked to the growing number of people who are anxious, stressed and dissatisfied.
Exposure to natural spaces - such as when riding an e-bike - has been touted as a fun and easy way to alleviate the harmful effects of modern living. How exactly does Nature do that?
There’s a reason most people tend to book their holidays in sunny climates. Safe levels of sun exposure are linked to better sleep, improved mood, and over the long term a more robust immune system.
There are receptors at the back of your eye which are tuned to the blue band of light present in daylight. Making sure that you head outside and see daylight stimulates these receptors and resets your internal clock. This can lead to better sleep so long as you don’t experience bright blue light close to bedtime (such as from phone screens).
Exposure to sunlight also increases the amount of serotonin in the bloodstream which is linked to feeling more contented and less stressed. If you suffer from SAD (seasonal affective disorder) then you may be prescribed light exposure therapy.
When the skin is exposed to direct sunlight, it creates vitamin D, which is essential to keeping the immune system working optimally.
Many people spend most of their time inside, especially during the winter months and though it seems counterintuitive to head out into the cold to boost your mood, it could actually be the happiness hack you need. Just keep warm and follow the sunshine.
Do you want to know how amazing your eyes are? They can distinguish more shades of green than any other colour. According to Kew botanist James Wong, “Human eyes could detect more green shades than any other color, because we're built to be botanists. We've been built to be able to distinguish between toxic and tasty plants and our vision is a result of that. So, the very way we see the world is down to co-evolution with plants.”
We have never evolved away from the colour giving us a sense of being ‘home.’
According to Sally Agustin, Environmental Psychologist and founder of The Space Doctors, the colour green has been shown to relax people, making it the ideal colour for places like living rooms and bedrooms, or anywhere that you want to relax.
Of course, nature is the original source of the colour, so it’s easy to give your eyes a dose of green when you’re out on an electric bike ride. You can easily find green places to ride with online resources like Forestry England, or Sustrans.
You’ve watched Blue Planet, but do you know about ‘blue mind’? This theory suggests that the human mind is made more expansive, calmer and even smarter when one spends time near large bodies of water. Blue Mind theory has been researched Marine Biologist Dr Wallace J. who says, “There are numerous cognitive and emotional benefits that we derive every time we spend time by water, in water or underwater,”
"We are drawn to water, because we come from, and are still largely made of water. In fact, the human body is about 60 percent water, and the brain is 75 percent water."
“When you see water, when you hear water, it triggers a response in your brain that you’re in the right place.”
He suggests spending time near water as often as possible in order to experience these benefits.
If you’re e-biking by a stream and need to make a crossing, you will need to make sure that the water doesn’t come above the level of the pedals, otherwise this can affect the motor. It might be best to take the battery out of the bike to make it easier to handle, then walk the bike across the stream with the battery in your backpack.
Look at the image below, or at the water in the image above; or even at the trees in the image at the bottom of this article. The natural, repeating patterns in nature seem to have a calming effect on the brain. These patterns are everywhere in nature: the repeating pattern of ocean waves, in clouds, in leaves, and much more.
Author and mental health campaigner Emma Mitchell regularly posts pictures on her social media platforms of items from nature arranged artfully so as to induce this calming effect. She says, "Humans are hardwired to respond positively to the patterns we encounter in nature. This increased our chances of successful foraging. Fractals are common in nature. When we look at this kind of pattern we recover from stress 60% more quickly."
It’s thought this is another layover from evolution. We instinctively sense that we are in a safe and abundant place when surrounded by nature, and natural shapes can mimic this effect.
When you next take a walk or bike ride in nature, slow down and look at the shapes you can see. Don’t be tempted to take hundreds and hundreds of photos on your smartphone however. Being ‘snap happy’ has actually been linked to a poorer recollection of what you’ve seen – almost as if you’re outsourcing your memory to your smartphone.
One of the biggest trends in wellbeing circles is Forest Bathing or Shinrinyoku in the original Japanese. Spending time with trees has been linked to lower stress levels, lower blood pressure and better mood.
One of the factors that contribute to this effect is the presence of phytoncides in the air in the forests. These substances are produced by the tress in order to defend against harmful pathogens but it has been found that in humans these phytoncides can stimulate the immune system’s natural killer cells.
Research in Japan has found that the scent from the Hinoki pine has particularly calming effects.
Where can you go to benefit from exposure to nature? You can often get local recommendations on social media, or even on your own town council’s website. Make sure to check whether cycling is permitted. In general, if there are stiles on the pathway, then this is a walking path, not a cycle path.
More and more cycling routes are opening all the time, so keep up to date with Cycling UK, Sustrans, and also this blog. There is so much to enjoy.
Start by choosing an e-bike that can explore what the natural world has to offer, here.
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