Mountain Biking to Keep Your Brain Fit


Trails like the ride from Wanaka to Glendhu Bay, New Zealand provide fun and mental stimulation.
Trails like the ride from Wanaka to Glendhu Bay, New Zealand provide fun and mental stimulation.

Several days ago I read an article in the Wall Street Journal about brain plasticity. It was an interesting article about new brain research. My take-away from the article is that gradual memory loss generally associated with aging can be reduced or delayed. Daily exercise of 25 minutes or more and engaging in problem solving tasks can help the brain’s memory function.

I’ve been thinking about this article a lot while riding my bicycle on long stretches of rural highway in New Zealand. Part of doing this cycling tour is to keep fit while we are still physically capable. And, according the article, we more than meet the daily exercise goals.

Regarding the second part of the brain plasticity article’s suggestion of engaging in problem solving skills, we met this goal on a daily basis in SE Asia. Every day presented some type of new problem to solve.

But here in New Zealand where the land seems so familiar, and English is spoken everywhere, my brain has been mothballed. After cycling, setting up a tent, cooking dinner, and planning the next day’s routes, I’ve been writing and reading less. My brain has been turning to mush.

That is, until today. Today’s mountain bike ride met both the daily physical exertion recommendation and daily mental problem solving activity to keep my brain sharp and functioning like a bug-free computer.

Here’s why I like mountain bike riding:

The trails are curvy and hilly.
There is no traffic.
There are lots of obstacles to navigate around – rocks, sand, tree stumps, other riders
There are many decisions to make – when to shift, when to unclip, when to jump off and walk
The scenery is beautiful.
I’m not a scientist, but I think it would be interesting to do a study with the following hypothesis:

Riding a Mountain Bike on Single Track Trails for 60 Minutes Three Times Per Week Reduces the Onset of Dementia By Five Years.

Even if mountain biking doesn’t improve brain fitness, it does improve mental health and bring lots of joy and happiness.