Can Bicycling Raise Consciousness?
A Raising Consciousness Now and Brain Health Essay.
When I started thinking about whether bicycling or other kinds of exercises can raise consciousness, I was hoping to find some evidence that it does because, I have been cycling a lot lately, 370 miles last month. I am training for a 3300 mile Cross USA Ride (Seattle, Washington to Washington, DC) in summer 2013 with Hazon, which is all about raising our consciousness of sustainable agriculture and our relationship to the natural environment.
While researching this topic I found some tricky researchers:
“In one study bicyclists were tricked into thinking the ambient temperature as well as their body temperature was lower than it actually was. This is what the researchers said, “We used incorrect visual feedback of ambient and core temperature. Seven males completed three 30 min cycling time trials in a randomized order on a Kingcycle ergometer. One time trial was in temperate conditions (21.8 degrees C), the others in hot, humid conditions (31.4 degrees C). In one of the hot, humid conditions (31.6 degrees C), participants were deceived into thinking the ambient conditions were 26.0 degrees C and their core temperature was 0.3 degrees C lower than it really was.”
This is what the researchers had to say, “Deception improved performance in the heat, evidence of a subtle mismatch between the subconscious expectation and conscious perception of the task demands.”
— Castle, P. C., N. Maxwell, et al. (2012). “Deception of ambient and body core temperature improves self paced cycling in hot, humid conditions.” Eur J Appl Physiol 112(1): 377–385.
The stories we tell ourselves matter as shown by more tricky researchers.
In another study participants were tricked into thinking something different from reality. Twenty-nine cyclists performed three 20 km cycling time trials using a Computrainer. The first two time trials were performed (1) without any performance feedback, (2) with accurate performance feedback or (3) with false feedback showing the speed to be 5% greater than the actual speed. All participants received full feedback during the third time trial.
The accuracy of the information we gather influences our strategy.
“Completion time, average power and average speed did not change among the false feedback group, but their pacing strategy did change as indicated by a lower average cadence, 89.2 vs 96.4 rpm and higher power during the first 5 minutes. Pacing is influenced by an interaction between feedback and previous experience. Conscious cognitive processes that lead to ratings of perceived exertion and pacing appear to be influenced by previous experience. “
— Micklewright, D., E. Papadopoulou, et al. (2010). “Previous experience influences pacing during 20 km time trial cycling.” Br J Sports Med 44(13): 952–960.
A further study highlights the importance of how we take in information not only from our environment but internal feedback from our muscles and bodies. Our ability to feel and fully integrate information coming from all parts of our body significantly influences our effectiveness.
Researchers investigated whether “somatosensory feedback from contracting leg muscles exerts an inhibitory influence on the determination of central command during closed-loop cycling exercise in which the subject voluntarily determines his second-by-second central motor drive.”
In other words, does it matter to our brain function whether we are getting accurate information from our leg muscles.
“Eight trained cyclists performed two 5-km time trials either without or with lumbar epidural anesthesia. These findings demonstrate the inhibitory influence of somatosensory [body sensation] feedback from contracting locomotor [movement / walking] muscles on the conscious and/or subconscious determination during endurance exercise.”
— Amann, M., L. T. Proctor, et al. (2008). “Somatosensory feedback from the limbs exerts inhibitory influences on central neural drive during whole body endurance exercise.” J Appl Physiol 105(6): 1714–1724.
In other words, we are able to match our breathing to our need for oxygen and blood flow as long as we are getting conscious or subconscious information from our muscles as we walk, bicycle, or function.
It is interesting to note that our breathing is the only normally automatic function that we have significant conscious control over. Typically you can increase or decrease your breathing rate on command, where as increasing or lowering your blood pressure or heart rate just because someone asks you to is much more difficult.
Take a moment to consciously think about all the things that happen automatically as long as there is enough incoming information. Take a deep breath and feel the oxygen circulating throughout your whole body.
Originally published at https://www.raisingconsciousnessnow.com on December 14, 2016.