Study Finds Motorcycle Riding Decreases Stress, Increases Focus

Since this is basically a scientific type article it is necessary to distinguish between anecdotal and empirical evidence. Anecdotal is usually associated with personal experience, and empirical is connected to experiments and observation. So when it comes to the benefits of riding a motorcycle the evidence can appear to get confusing.

That said, there is a study that has scientifically proven there are definite benefits to riding a motorcycle, including lower stress levels and increasing your ability to focus while riding. When compared to driving a car these are two huge benefits for your personal health and well-being. Most riders will tell you the degree of freedom being on a motorcycle gives you, even if you are not the driver. Let’s look at the hows and whys of the science and the research.

The UCLA Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior collaborated with Harley-Davidson and studied 50 healthy motorcycle riding subjects. The weather conditions were normal and the subjects were allowed to ride their own bikes over a measured distance of 22 miles. Two sets of criteria were used. The first was measuring their brain activity and the second was to measure their hormone levels before and after completing the ride.

As the title of the article stated, there was scientifically proven evidence that the riders experienced lower stress levels and were able to focus better. In consideration of the research, there is plenty of anecdotal evidence from riders of many years who can personally attest to the same experience. The combination of the two would seem to create an irrefutable conclusion that motorcycle riding is actually better for your health than the traditional Sunday road trip.

People who want to attack the study by injecting the accident rates compared to cars are on a slippery road because the purpose of the study was to determine the personal physiological benefits from riding a motorcycle. Accident statistics are only useful if you are not in one. But the study does have some major problems that should cause you to take the results with a shaker of salt.

First, the collaboration was that the entire study was funded by Harley-Davidson, and while no bias is being implied in the actual study itself there is a tendency for company funded studies to get results that are favorable to their product or service.

A second issue is how the brain activity was measured. Using a mobile EEG technology is something the scientists called “groundbreaking” meaning that there was not a lot of practical application of the technology for it to be determined that the measurements were consistently reliable. Upon reading the study more closely you discover that this seemed to be in part an experiment to test the validity of the mobile EEG technology.

Terminology is often a problem when reading about studies, and this study has at least one problem. One result cited by the researchers stated that the increases in heart rate and adrenaline made the ride equivalent to that of “light exercise.” The problem is that exercise, by definition, is an action rather than a reaction. People driving cars may experience the same effects but are the result of increased stress levels, and it is hard to find people who are claiming that driving in these conditions is “light exercise.”

Finally, the reported increased focus was compared to people who drive a car as well as those who meditate. From an anecdotal perspective, driving a car lets you drop your guard down some since you have a number of safety components not present on a motorcycle. Most cyclists know you have to be more aware when riding. Regarding the meditation comparison, being able to isolate yourself from your surrounding environment is not something that can be done of the road whether in a car or on a motorcycle.

Does any of this invalidate the study or the results? Definitely not, as much as some may suggest. In fact, the anecdotal evidence gives additional support to the study in numbers far greater than the 50 study subjects. But to try and make the case that riding a motorcycle is a form of exercise is a bit of a stretch. Take the good from the study and wait to see the next study that supports these conclusions.


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