A guest post written by Anne Mountain…
Mountain Biking and the Road to Recovery
If you have just been through the challenging process of recovery from an addiction, chances are, one of the first things on your agenda is to get fit and active. Mountain biking, like a select number of outdoor sports, is ideal for this purpose, since it can be adapted to different fitness levels, and is gentle on the joints. Moreover, it offers us the chance to immerse ourselves in the greatest healer of all: Mother Nature. As you ride scenic routes peppered with verdant valleys, ancient forests and glistening coastal features, you may notice that the stress and worry that surround you during this delicate time, evaporate into thin air. Mountain biking wields a host of health benefits, many of which you may never have imagined. These include:
A dramatic drop in cortisol: When a person who is addicted to alcohol or drugs first kicks the habit, they are forced to face high levels of stress, owing to many factors, including physical withdrawal, worry about the future and guilt about any hurt caused to loved ones. When the body feels overburdened, the ‘fight or flight’ response is invoked and it can be very difficult to think clearly, remain positive or keep the mind ‘in the here and now’. Stress isn’t harmful to just our mental and spiritual wellbeing, however; when present chronically at high levels, it is linked to heart disease, Type II diabetes, inflammation and high blood pressure. Studies have shown that outdoor exercise is particularly useful at causing levels of stress hormone, cortisol, to plummet. Simply spending time in Nature is linked to a lower risk of poor mental health, leading numerous researchers to recommend physical activities such as mountain biking and outdoor yoga, as a highly efficient and cost-effective preventive health measure.
Muscle toning: Those who have been in the throes of addiction for a long time will usually suffer from poor muscle tone and cardiovascular fitness challenges. Mountain biking is an excellent way to build up your strength and resistance, and to get your heart racing at a pace you can manage. Regular riders can expect to find big improvements in the muscles in the thighs, buttocks and calves. You will also find that you have stronger hips and joints, areas which are important to work on following addiction, since alcohol and drug use pose a greater risk for osteoporosis in one’s older years. Many recovering addicts do not wish to head straight into a tough strength routine involving weights; cycling is a very natural way to build up muscular strength, with different terrains offering challenges of varying intensities and strengthening different muscles during just one day out.
Improved stamina and coordination: Mountain biking helps with stamina and coordination, building the confidence you need to add new sports which involve coordination, to your exercise routine (e.g. dance, yoga, mountain climbing, etc.). It has been estimated that mountain biking for just three hours a week can increase your lung capacity by up to 20%, which is great news particularly after your body has been subject to smoke and other harmful substances for a sustained period. In this sense, exercise can provide inspiration for those trying to get sober, especially those who were keen athletes in the past and who wish to achieve or even surpass past records of strength and speed.
Weight loss: Once you have completed rehabilitation therapy and you begin to eat regular meals, you may find that you begin to pack on the pounds. Drugs like cocaine hamper the body’s ability to store fat, while other drugs can actually contribute to weight gain. Alcoholic beverages, meanwhile, tend to be highly calorific, making it easy for the body to manufacture and store unwanted fat. Mountain biking is one of the best outdoor workouts there is; you can expect to burn hundreds of calories and unlike gym workouts, you never feel like you are ‘getting nowhere’ or repeating the same old exercises. Indeed, the words ‘routine’ and ‘mountain biking’ are mutually exclusive, since you never really know what you’re going to face on a given day. Weather conditions, the people you are with and the path you choose to take vary and so do the benefits you obtain on a given day. Regardless of where you end up, however, you can be sure that you will burn more calories than you can probably consume in a day and soon, you will be sporting a leaner and more attractive physique.