Ride to work: Turning pedals turns the tables on your stress

Op-ed by Dr Emily Musgrove, Clinical Psychologist in conjunction with WestCycle

While common workplace injuries are decreasing, the impact of stress and workplace mental ill-health in Australia is escalating to critical levels, costing $39 billion a year in lost participation and productivity[1].

I’ve seen a lot of manifestations of stress in 10+ years working as a clinical psychologist – acute stress, chronic stress, parental stress, social justice stress, work stress, climate stress.  Stress is part of our everyday lives.

Contrary to popular opinion, not all stress is bad for us. The body is actually very effective at managing short term experiences of it. In fact, short bursts of stress improve resilience and physiological functioning.  However, we as humans did not evolve to experience prolonged exposure to stress. Unmanaged stress is linked to an increased risk of significant mental and physical illness. It can severely compromise our ability to function on multiple levels.

Stress – or more precisely, stressors – stress triggers – are everywhere, including at work. So it is really important to build de-stress techniques into your daily routine.

Physical movement is one of the best stress busters there is.

When we feel stressed we often have the urge to “zone out” with a glass of wine, scrolling the phone or watching TV. While these might feel good at the time, they do not have lasting, genuine benefits to your health or wellbeing. In the longer term, these behaviours actually make stress worse.

One of the most evidence-based stress management strategies is movement. A great way to de-stress at the end of the day is to literally shake it off – get your body moving. It doesn’t have to be hard or long, but moving your body as you transition from work to homelife is a proven way to manage stress. So how can we integrate movement into your daily commute?  

Bikes: Your very own stress-buster

Even the most bike-averse person or family will usually have at least one bicycle lying around somewhere. And that old jalopy, like all bikes, is a scientifically-backed stress management machine!

Cycling has also been shown to reduce the levels of stress hormones, such as cortisol and adrenaline.  More prosaic benefits include cardiovascular regulation, improved immune function, increased overall fitness, skill and goal attainment (which boosts confidence and can reduce stress) and communing with nature and other riders.

When you ride a bike you become more attuned to your surroundings, your body’s movements and the rhythm of your breath. This heightened awareness can serve as a form of moving meditation, helping you stay present and focused, rather than dwelling on stressors. When you ride to work you’re not only more relaxed but also more energised and ready to tackle the day’s challenges.

Riding to work puts you in control of your commute, which can itself be liberating and empowering. It can counteract feelings of being overwhelmed that are linked to stress. You’re not dependent on public transportation schedules or suffering the tyranny of the traffic jammed. You’re doing something positive for the environment. This sense of control can spill over into other areas of your life, helping you manage stress more effectively.

The joy of cycling

More broadly, any hobby or activity that brings joy and satisfaction are crucial to our sense of wellbeing. Riding to work fits in here – a hobby that you can look forward to every day. Gone the chore of commuting, replaced with something energising, joyful and revitalising!

So grab your helmet, hop on your bike, and start pedalling your way to a happier, healthier, and less stressful life.

National Ride to Work Day in 2023 is October 18. 



Find out more at westcycle.org.au/ride-to-work-day

For more information contact:

Shane Starling

WestCycle Communications Manager

Phone: 0492 897 199

Email: [email protected]

[1] “Modern work: how changes to the way we work are impacting Australians’ mental health White Paper.” October 2021. Sydney, AU : Black Dog Institute

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Tim Roach

Elected Director | Off Road

Tim has been in senior leadership and strategic development roles for more than twenty years. He is currently Director of Executive Education in the School of Business and Law at Edith Cowan University and is a past Assistant Commissioner and General Manager in the public service. He is an Accountant (FCPA) and sits on the Divisional Council of CPA Australia.

Tim has been involved in racing mountain bikes, BMX and triathlon for many years, both as a father of two children who race and as a past and current bike racer. Tim is the current over-50 State Champion in downhill mountain biking. He is also a very regular and enthusiastic transport cyclist; frequently seen in a suit and tie riding to meetings in the city on a mountain bike.

Denise Sullivan

Chair | Governance & Risk Committee

Denise Sullivan has a career spanning over twenty years in senior management and executive roles in the state public and not-for-profit health sectors.

In her usual role of Director Chronic Disease Prevention with the Western Australian Department of Health, she leads the development of state chronic disease and injury prevention policy and planning frameworks and contributes to the shaping of the national preventive health policy agenda.

Her professional interests cover many aspects of chronic disease and injury prevention encompassing health communications, health promotion and research, public policy on health and workforce planning and development.

She has a particular interest in furthering collaborations with other sectors with a mutual interest in promoting a more active and healthier WA community, and creating and sustaining environments that support this. Denise is a graduate of the Australian Institute of Company Directors and the Leadership WA Signature Program, and an Associate Fellow of the Australian Institute of Management and the Australian College of Health Service Managers.

Denise is a recreational cyclist and recent convert to mountain biking (although trainer wheels still on!).