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How Bicycling Healed My Heart
Last week, Sports Marketing Surveys USA released new data on the most popular sports and fitness activites in America — and biking ranked #6 on the list, with more than 41 million participants in 2013. While we often talking about the health benefits of bicycling, we focus on the physical: losing weight, managing diabetes, increasing energy. But, as Josie Smith, a rider and blogger in Decorah, Iowa, shared with us, cycling can heal our hearts and minds, as well. Here's her story...
I can't say I've had major physical health benefits from riding a bike, but obviously I have become healthier in the physical sense. I still have times where I'm in disbelief over what has changed with my body. More toned, more muscle, better endurance (even with exercise induced asthma).
My biggest health benefit has been on the mental/emotional level and the confidence that riding a bike has given me.
When I purchased my bike in 2012 I didn't realize that divorce was on the horizon. I should've realized it moreso after I found how fun riding a bike was, but how my then-husband didn't want to share the experience with me. I had struggled for years on trying to find ways to connect with him, but it was too far gone. We were friends, roommates, but no longer were we in a relationship beyond that.
I rode daily and talked to myself a LOT. My ex-husband and I had gone around in circles for years, and we were coming to our next round-about where I would hear the commonly said "Well, if you're not happy, why don't you divorce me?"
I rode to clear away the scattered energy that would build up within me. This was particularly important on Mondays when I'd be relieved of his presence as he'd go back on the road for work. The weekends were a frustrating time for me, I felt trapped and alone, all while sitting with him on the couch.
My rides were a time to clear my head, sort out my thoughts, and give myself some freedom from the "real world" problems I had been facing. For the past five years, we had been trying to live a life that didn't exist anymore; neither one of us wanted to be the "bad guy" but we were both suffocating. I wanted us to be free. When the day came and I told him I felt our marriage was over, a huge weight dropped on me — but also fell off of me.
I was worried whether I would have to go back on anti-depressants — I really didn't want to but I was scared to death. Announcing the end of my marriage was giving us freedom from the relationship that was simultaneously trapping us and pulling us apart. It was also my announcing to the world that "I will survive!" — that I didn't need a husband to help me with bills or rent. That I could live on my own and be financially stable.
Before that, I had never lived on my own. It was an enormous step for me.
Riding was the one way that I could remind myself that I did have a "can do" attitude and that I could indeed accomplish things. For so long, I had told myself "you can't ride a bike," but I proved to myself that concept was wrong.
During this time I had a friend join me on rides. He was an ear, a sounding board, and also provided some much-needed support and encouragement for my riding. He helped me overcome obstacles that I felt were too hard for me and helped me prove to myself that I could do it. And he still does.
Riding my bike not only helped to heal my mind but it also helped heal my heart.