Back in the mid-90s, when I lived in San Francisco, I used to go for all-day bike rides over the Golden Gate Bridge and into the Marin Headlands. That was a time way before kids, when time was all I had. I finally brought that bike out of hiding a few months ago and began riding the Helderberg-Hudson Bike Trail to work. As quick as you pick up bike riding again after almost 20 years of not riding, I was hooked on these rides and will now do whatever maneuvering it takes to squeeze in a 2-wheeled 30-minute commute.
Exercise has been an important part of my life for a long time now, not only for the physical health and fitness benefits, but also for the positive effects it has on my mental wellness. There is no doubt I am a happier, more grounded, and relaxed person when I exercise regularly. In addition to the dose of endorphins these rides give me, I also experience a connection to my surroundings that enhances my mindfulness. I’ve slowed my pace to enjoy the late-day sunlight, outrun storms, caught whiffs of wet soil or dinners being prepped, and have been reminded that your heart and your quads always beat out your eyes gauging the slope of the surface below.
All of this mindfulness is much more acute on the home end of the trail where, for what is most of the ride, I am alone. When I approach the work end of the trail there is a noticeable bustle, and suddenly I’m smiling and saying hello or good morning to just about everyone I pass. What can be a source of solitude and a place for mindful exercise one minute becomes a main thoroughfare of not only commuters and fitness seekers, but also a place where folks are topping off with some social wellness. I’ve seen parents and grandparents with their children and grandchildren, couples, twin siblings, groups of new moms, and more on that short section of the trail. Imagine the spectrum of interactions: getting a kick out of witnessing your little one zoom ahead in her Troll-haired helmet, desperately exchanging sleep strategies for new babies, or working out some issues with your spouse. Social wellness is all about your relationships and interactions with others. What’s more, developing your social network and engaging with your social support system can benefit your mental health.
The benefits of social wellness should not be overlooked. How are you topping off with some social wellness?