Study shows riding a motorcycle can improve your mental health

Smiling biker looking through visor of his motorcycle helmet
June 9, 2020

To people who see motorcycle riding as purely an adrenaline rush for thrill-seekers, the idea of riding to improve one's mental health can seem surprising. In the eyes of the uninitiated, motorcycle therapy seems to be an oxymoron. However, nothing could be further from the truth. Experienced motorcycle riders have long understood motorcycle riding yields benefits like reduced stress and anxiety.

Since the earliest days of riding, you only needed to talk with a motorcyclist to understand the health benefits of riding. But now, thanks to modern technology, we have proven results from a scientific study sponsored by Harley-Davidson® and conducted by UCLA’s Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior.

The study documents measurable mental health reasons to ride a motorcycle. Before we dive into the results, let’s look at the knowledge American riders themselves have accumulated over the past 120 years.

Motorcycle therapy

Long before roads were paved or mental health was a topic of conversation, riders were practicing motorcycle therapy. While life in earlier times may have been simpler, people still had stress—even if the term hadn't reached common use. Upon return from their riding escape, they felt refreshed, having gained clarity and sometimes even a greater understanding of themselves.

Nowadays, the downtime needed to decompress from the pressures of work and daily tasks is harder to come by. For some of us, the boundary between work hours and free time grows fuzzier with each passing year. Motorcycle riding offers a healthy way to take a break, find a personal place to be at peace, and reflect on life.

Motorcycle riding, even with a group, is a solitary experience that offers us mental space to let our thoughts expand and come back into focus. Additionally, you may be surprised to find that the act of riding a motorcycle provides some of the benefits of light/moderate exercise. This is something that motorcycle riders have long understood, and science has just confirmed.

Science proves health effects of motorcycle riding

Let’s dig into the study’s results. Led by neuroscientist Dr. Don Vaughn and his research team, 50 experienced motorcyclists were instructed to ride a preselected semi-rural route for a 20-minute duration using first their own vehicle, and then their own motorcycle.

Using advanced mobile electroencephalogram (EEG) and lab tests, the participants’ responses to these real-world conditions were collected and compared to their bodies’ stimulation responses at rest.

The results showed how riding benefits the mind and body. Here are some insights from the study:

  • Riding a motorcycle increases alertness, similar to the positive effects of caffeine on brain activity.

  • Motorcycle riding enhances a rider’s senses more than driving a car.

  • A 20-minute motorcycle ride increases the heart rate up to 11 percent and boosts adrenaline up to 27 percent, which is comparable to light exercise.

  • Riding a motorcycle decreases the levels of the stress hormone cortisol up to 28 percent.

  • Motorcycle riders experience increases in their ability to readily recover from distractions while riding compared to driving a car.

Till next time, ride safe!

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