A pilot program has confirmed the benefits of regular mountain biking when used as part of a therapeutic recovery programme for people experiencing mental ill health. It is already known that exercising is beneficial for mental health, with a 2018 study of 1.2 million Americansfinding that cycling was second among sports for reducing periods of mental ill health.
The Scottish program was organized by the government-funded Developing Mountain Biking in Scotland (DMBinS) project, based at the mountain biking center at Glentress near Peebles in the Scottish Borders.
DMBinS worked with Scottish Borders Health, the Galashiels Resource Centre and Edinburgh Napier University to deliver the six-week program.
NHS Scotland wanted to provide a therapeutic approach within a non-clinical environment to promote the use of self-management skills for those suffering from mental ill health.
Ten participants were supplied with bikes and equipment from the hire center at Glentress before embarking on two-hour mountain bike rides led by qualified leaders.
One of the participants said: “You don’t think it’s therapy – but it really is.”
DMBinS project manager Graeme McLean said: “We wanted to understand if mountain biking aided recovery from periods of mental ill health, how we as leaders could learn from the experience and, using our role within mountain biking in Scotland, how we could take these learnings and spread them across Scotland.”
He added: “Every week we went away buzzing from enjoyment everyone was getting from the rides.”
The pilot program was evaluated by sports psychologist Tony Westbury of Edinburgh Napier University.
He said: “Through our observations we can see that the participants really enjoyed mountain biking. We will be studying the impact of the program from the participants’ perspective and also collecting the learnings from the leaders and occupational therapists involved into how the programme could be developed and improved.”
The program partners are considering making the scheme permanent.
Developing Mountain Biking in Scotland is a partnership between Scottish Cycling, Cycling Scotland, Forestry Commission Scotland, Scottish Natural Heritage, Cycling UK, EventScotland, Highlands and Islands Enterprise, IMBA UK, Scottish Enterprise, sportscotland, Visit Scotland and a representative from The Highland Council, acting as a local government advisor.