Airrick Dunfield

Developer / Designer / Educator

Journal / Managing Mental &...

Managing Mental & Physical Health Through Cycling

By Airrick Dunfield

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Content Warning: Body Image, Depression.

I have openly and publically struggled with Dysthymia, a diagnosis that is similar to long-term, low-grade depression.

I've written about it before, specifically about how I manage my mental health while working in a team. In this post, I will talk about how it shows up in my attempts to stay healthy and fit.

Going on bike rides is the number one way I stay well mentally and physically. It gives me the freedom to explore my surroundings, push my body, and clear my mind, but working on my physical health can also trigger my Dysthymia.

I struggle with my image and body. There is nothing wrong with it. I am healthy, and it does some pretty extraordinary things, but there is still a voice that says, "You're not fit enough... You should be stronger... You look terrible..." This voice is wrong, mean, and generally sucks.

Here are three things I do to manage that voice and keep me focused on the fun of riding bikes in the hopes they can help you enjoy being on your bike as well.


Number 1: I don't weigh myself, ever.

Weight is a terrible metric for health and fitness. It fluctuates, says little about what a body is capable of, and is wrapped in some terrible cultural context.

I am not riding my bike to lose weight. I am riding my bike to have fun being outside, to push my body, and to feel good. As soon as I bring in a metric to my training that is not about how my body is improving and growing stronger, it becomes a negative experience.


Number 2: I Compare Myself to Myself

When creating goals and metrics, I remind myself that I am only competing against myself. I look back to my previous month and ask myself, "What can I improve here? Can I spend more time on the bike? Go on more challenging rides? What is a small and achievable goal for this month?".

Sure, some of my friends on Strava will always be faster, riding longer, and going further. That's great for them. I benefit from remembering that that is their journey, not mine.

Number 3: Being part of a community.

Some of my rides are just me, pedalling as fast as I can around Stanely Park roadway, trying to beat my personal records. They are fun, but they never my favourite rides. 

The best rides are the group rides where no one is in a cycling kit. On these rides, riders of all levels are excited to be on their bikes, head to a beach or forest, and are just happy to be taking up space in the world together. No one gets left behind, and laughter and fun are the point.

It's on these rides I am reminded of the joy cycling brings me. The freedom it gives to explore the world and the importance of connection and community. How they help and heal. 

I hope these tips have been helpful for you and that you may try integrating a few into the way you care for your body. Everyone's journey is unique, so they may or may not fit, but they've helped me keep focused on why I ride: to bring joy to myself and others.

Take care of yourself and happy pedalling.