Sunday, March 4, 2012

This is Your Brain on a Motorcycle

I'm biased, but I really like this article. :)

From Motorcycle Insurance:
"This Is Your Brain on a Motorcycle" by Todd Halterman

Before I begin, let me tell a little story. I don't drink coffee. Never have, and at this late (!) stage of my life I don't think I'll start. People used to ask me why, and I'd say that I had no need. My morning motorcycle ride (which I don't do often enough lately) wakes me up better than any cup of coffee ever will.

I also believe that a motorcycle ride, where I must remain mentally alert, helps my brain to focus on what's important. It certainly helps push the extraneous stuff off to the side and helps clear my head, which is very helpful sometimes.

I didn't realize the full extent of it, however. Which brings us back to the article...

"Riding a motorcycle every day might actually keep your brain functioning at peak condition, or so says a study conducted by the University of Tokyo. The study demonstrated that riders between the age of 40 and 50 were shown to improve their levels of cognitive functioning, compared to a control group, after riding their motorcycles daily to their workplace for a mere two months."

"Scientists believe that the extra concentration needed to successfully operate a motorcycle can contribute to higher general levels of brain function, and it’s that increase in activity that’s surely a contributing factor to the appeal of the motorcycles as transportation. It’s the way a ride on a bike turns the simplest journey into a challenge to the senses that sets the motorcyclist apart from the everyday commuter. While the typical car-owning motorist is just transporting him or her self from point A to point B, the motorcyclist is actually transported into an entirely different state of consciousness."

I completely agree with that last sentence. That is exactly how I feel when riding a bike! I'm not in a cage, I am part of my surroundings. Interacting with what's around me. It's a great feeling.

"...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."

This is also VERY consistent with what I feel. When I ride for the first time after a couple of weeks without riding I feel awkward. I feel like I'm overthinking things, things are not coming naturally. It takes a little while to get in the right frame of mind. Literally, according to the article!

"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."

Broken record alert: I completely agree with that part, too! And that's why I ride motorcycles.

"So why motorcycles? Shouldn’t driving a car should have the same effect as riding a motorcycle?
'There were many studies done on driving cars in the past,' Kawashima said. 'A car is a comfortable machine which does not activate our brains.'."

Exactly right. A car simply does not activate our brains like a motorcycle does. Not to say that there aren't some cars that activate our brains, of course, but most cars don't. Whereas I've yet to find a motorcycle that doesn't "activate my brain," so to speak!

Which brings up another point. When I buy a car, I specifically choose a smaller car, with a manual transmission. Where I feel the road more, and I have to be more actively involved in the control of the car. Basically, my car is somewhat like a motorcycle.

But it's not a motorcycle. On a bike my whole body is involved. And the motorcycle demands my full attention much more than a car does--because my life depends on it.

Let me illustrate this with an example. You know how if you drive when you're really tired you are at risk of falling asleep at the wheel? Not so on a motorcycle. No matter how tired I've been when I've ridden motorcycles, I have NEVER felt close to falling asleep. And I've been just as tired on a bike as when I've driven a car. The bike just demands your attention--and gets it!

The article goes on to mention a second study.

"The second research project was divided into two time periods throughout 2009 and 2010 compared differences in the conditions of brain stimulation as they related to the type of vehicle and driving conditions. A second set of tests measuring the changes in brain stimulation over time involved a larger subject group."

"What the study revealed is that what you’re thinking about while you’re riding – and your experience on the bike - changes the physical structure of your brain."

"Along with the obvious benefits of riding motorcycles; like saving money (motorcycle insurance is relatively inexpensive), motorcycles take the edge off the grind of the daily commute, and that appears to make your brain a better place to be..."

You'll be shocked to know that I agree with this. Most of it, anyway. It turns out that motorcycles, unless you get something like a scooter, really aren't more economical to operate than a small car.

I need to ride more...