Motorcycle Riding is Good for Your Cognitive Faculties
"Scientists Find that Motorcycle Riding is Good for Your Brain" ... well, let's clarify that.
Back in 2009, Yamaha announced that they had been involved in joint research on the relationship between motorcycle riding and brain stimulation with Ryuta Kawashima Laboratory of the Department of Functional Brain Imaging, Institute of Development, Aging and Cancer at Tohoku University. Dr Ryuta Kawashima, author of Dr Kawashima’s Brain Training: How Old Is Your Brain, reported the outcome of his study of “The relationship between motorcycle riding and the human mind.” Todd Halterman, managing editor of MotorcycleInsurance.com, nicely summarized the findings here. Excerpting from his article:
Kawashima’s experiments involved current riders who currently rode motorcycles on a regular basis (the average age of the riders was 45) and ex-riders who once rode regularly but had not taken a ride for 10 years or more. Kawashima asked the participants to ride on courses in different conditions while he recorded their brain activities. The eight courses included a series of curves, poor road conditions, steep hills, hair-pin turns and a variety of other challenges.
What did he find? After an analysis of the data, Kawashima found that the current riders and ex-riders used their brain in radically different ways. When the current riders rode motorcycles, specific segments of their brains (the right hemisphere of the prefrontal lobe) was activated and riders demonstrated a higher level of concentration.
His next experiment was a test of how making a habit of riding a motorcycle affects the brain.
Trial subjects were otherwise healthy people who had not ridden for 10 years or more. Over the course of a couple of months, those riders used a motorcycle for their daily commute and in other everyday situations while Dr Kawashima and his team studied how their brains and mental health changed.
The upshot was that the use of motorcycles in everyday life improved cognitive faculties, particularly those that relate to memory and spatial reasoning capacity. An added benefit? Participants revealed on questionnaires they filled out at the end of the study that their stress levels had been reduced and their mental state changed for the better.
These findings "feel right", but sadly the sample size in the original study is too low to be statistically significant. Still, You know it, I know it, all riders know that our brains go through a chemical change-of-state when we to ride - we can feel it, we sigh with relief when we start our ride and sigh with resignation when we reach our destination.
I have wondered why some people describe why they ride as "It makes me feel free." Free as a bird on the wing? Free to be a rude jerk on the road and get away with it because of greater acceleration and mobility than the cars around you? Free to scare the bejeezus out of people with loud pipes? I remember a zen teacher once saying something like, "freedom is not a ticket to do anything you want; freedom is having no constraints preventing you from doing what needs to be done for the greater good." Leave it to the Zen Buddhists to turn "freedom" into a lesson in social and moral responsibility.
The study talks about the rider's need to concentrate their mind and body. I know that when I get stressed out by my reaction to people or a situation, I want to get away from that negative source. Getting on a motorcycle literally lets me do that. Yes, a car does too, but driving a car doesn't present the constant physical challenge that a motorcycle does. Furthermore, on a single ride, as when I concentrate on riding I receive rolling sense of small achievements - smooth navigation of hairpin turn, didn't grab a handful in the unexpected decreasing radius turn, anticipated the blue car moving into my lane without signalling, didn't freak out over the slight loss of traction due gravel in the road while making a turn, didn't hit the chicken that was playing squirrel with me...and so on all the way home. The combination of the internal need to maintain balance and momentum (somatic focus) and the all-around threats to my bodily integrity (that's both me and my bike) are usually enough to keep the negative stressors are kept out my conscious mind. Not drowning in negative stress, feeling rewarded by multiple successive accomplishments - definitely good for the brain.
I would love to see a study that talked about the neurochemical changes that occur in the brain when a person rides a motorcycle. Wouldn't it be cool if to hear my doctor say, "Look Cecilie, you push yourself too hard at work and you take things way too seriously. Your cortisol levels are too high. We need balance out those elevated levels of norepinephron. You need to ride more for your mental health. Don't stay late at work, leave earlier and take the long way home. Here's a prescription for gasoline for the bike, 92 octane, 2 tankfuls a week - now the gas is a medical expense and tax deductible." (in my dreams)
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Thanks to Paul Hollerbach for the link. Thanks to Alicia Mariah Elfving of TheMotoLady.com for permission to use her lovely graphic.