The power of happy: can a good mood make you ride faster?

Growing evidence suggests that happiness can have an effect on your cycling performance

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When the going gets tough, get happy – it’ll boost your power. There’s growing evidence that a sunny outlook doesn’t just make cycling more enjoyable – it helps you ride faster, too.

A heartwarming experiment by sports scientists in France sets the scene – literally. They wanted to know if picturesque views improve riders’ performances.

They asked a dozen volunteers to do a series of sprint tests in the lab on a wired exercise bike (ergometer).

For some of the sprints the riders were shown pictures of ugly scenery.

For the rest of the sprints they clapped their eyes on neutral or beautiful views.

The scientists measured the peak power, effort, heart rate and how hard each rider felt they were working for each sprint.

The results were uplifting. They found that power, effort and heart rate increased significantly when the riders were looking at lovely scenery.

Power went up by 3.5% on average, effort by 5% and heart rate by 2.6% when they were shown pictures of attractive countryside.

“The ability to produce maximal power output depended on whether the emotional context was pleasant or unpleasant,” they researchers said, with a smile.

In other words, if you can lift your spirits by training in a beautiful landscape you’ll cover the miles more quickly. Perhaps the magnificence of the Col de la Croix de Fer will help the 2015 Etape du Tour riders on their way to La Toussure?

Of course, the weather and geography can stop you getting out so you may have to face the daunting challenge of making a turbo session in the garage as merry as possible.

Scientists are glad to help with this. A team at Brunel University, London, recruited 38 reasonably fit young men and women. They put them on ergometers and played them either motivational music, a headcam video of a ride through parkland, or both music and video, for 10 minutes.

The pleasing result is that music alone and music-with-video can change a cyclist’s mood enough to boost their cycling.

“These results present exercise professionals, for the first time, with evidence-supported and easily implementable options for ameliorating the affective experiences of individuals who find themselves exercising slightly above ventilatory threshold,” they say, cheerfully.

So, watching a box set of Breaking Bad while putting in time on the turbo can distract you from the chore but you might get more joy combining Countryfile with Pharrell Williams, who almost sings “Clip along if you know what happiness is to you.”

Looking ahead to when you’ve got the miles in your legs and you’re on the road racing against the clock or a fierce rival, psychologists say it can help to think happy – particularly if the tension in your mind is tensing muscles that will work better when relaxed.

And improved cycling is the start of a feelgood carousel. The exercise helps your nervous system and pituitory gland release endorphins, the natural opioids that inhibit pain and generate a feeling of euphoria.

It’s easy to get addicted to these rewarding biochemicals so a new study says it’s important not to let your passion for cycling get out of hand.

Interviews with almost a thousand keen cyclsts in Scandinavia, show they fall into two types. The obsessed cyclist risks harming their friendships and family life. But others who keep it in balance will live in harmony with their loved ones.

As ever, there’s little that can beat the thrill and the joy of cycling but, whatever the science says, you’ll do best when you can keep a happy medium.