Study shows cycling programs in middle schools a win for mental health

by: Ron Johnson for Momentum Magazine

In a time when concerns about teenagers’ mental health are growing, a recent study conducted by researchers from Loma Linda University has shed light on a heartening solution – in-school cycling programs. This comprehensive study, encompassing over 1,200 middle school students, has revealed a connection between these programs and an enhancement in psychosocial well-being.

Mental Well-being: A Growing Concern
Mental well-being has emerged as a concern, as the incidence of mental health disorders among school-age children continues to rise. In the United States, statistics indicate that one in six school-aged children is diagnosed with some form of mental disorder. This backdrop underscores the urgency to explore effective approaches to support the mental health of the younger generation.

The Impact of Cycling Programs
The crux of the research revolved around assessing the influence of in-school cycling programs on the psychosocial well-being of middle school students. Outride, a notable not-for-profit organization, has joined hands with schools across the nation, including Curtis Middle School and Cesar Chavez Middle School in San Bernardino. They provide cycling programs through their Riding for Focus (R4F) initiative, which not only imparts cycling skills but also introduces students to the benefits of physical activity.

Positive Responses
Middle school students aged 11 to 14 actively took part in this program and shared their experiences through pre- and post-program surveys. The results were nothing short of promising. Engagement in the cycling program, even during the challenging times of the COVID-19 pandemic, was associated with tangible improvements in the students’ psychosocial well-being.

“It was really encouraging to see such a positive student response to a cycling-specific physical education program,” said Fletcher Dementyev, the first author of the study and an undergraduate research fellow at Loma Linda University School of Medicine Center for Health Disparities and Molecular Medicine. “This motivates us, and hopefully others, to continue investigating and developing cycling as a pathway to improved health and well-being in adolescents.”

Broad Social Factors in Focus
The study also brings attention to the influence of broader social factors on teenagers’ well-being, both before and after their participation in the program. Sean Wilson, PhD, the senior author of the study and a professor of basic sciences at the Lawrence D. Longo Center for Perinatal Biology at Loma Linda University School of Medicine, noted, “We focused on a number of key risk factors that affect mental health and well-being in middle school-aged children in the U.S., including socio-economic status, gender, and race.”

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