Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another:
‘What! You too? I thought I was the only one.’
– C.S. Lewis
Generally, I enjoy spending time alone, and I believe that it’s healthy to be content in your own company. Whatever your individual circumstances are, however, this last year has been a major challenge to our mental health and wellbeing.
During these unexpected periods of isolation, I had talked myself into being ‘fine’ with being alone (nod to Ross from Friends: ‘I’m FINE!’) but being honest, I missed meeting with others and feared I had lost confidence with social interaction – something I took for granted, pre-pandemic. A volunteering opportunity for the new Forth Meadow Community Greenway came along at just the right time and in the first training session, I met some special people, whose paths I’d likely never have crossed, had it not been for this project. ( I will talk more about the Forth Meadow Community Greenway, and my journey into cycling in future blogs.)
My friends and I are by no means professional cyclists, and that doesn’t matter. Some basic checks to make sure our bikes are road-worthy…and away we go! We love getting outside into the fresh air and exploring Belfast and beyond. Time flies by, along with the kilometres, as we laugh and share stories, and encourage each other along the way. There’s also an added bonus – our own version of karaoke, on wheels!
But here’s the thing: although from different backgrounds, we have quickly learned, to our amazement, that we have dealt with similar life experiences and share a lot of common ground. My friends energise and inspire me, and I enjoy listening to their perspectives on life. Sometimes we don’t talk and just cycle. There’s an unspoken understanding of needing to be alone with our thoughts for a little while, in our shared space. It’s also an opportunity to take in some stunning scenery. One of the best parts though, is the satisfaction of finishing our cycle, and the prospect of a good night’s sleep to let tired muscles recover.
As you can see, there are massive mental health benefits when exercise and friendship come together. I do want to plug the physical health benefits though, as cycling is an aerobic activity, which means your heart, lungs and blood vessels work harder. Over time, cycling can reduce blood pressure and your resting heart rate. Cycling also strengthens lower body muscles and, as a low-impact activity, puts less pressure on the joints.
Friendships aren’t only just made through cycling. There are some amazing walking groups around, not to mention the welcome return of the Park Run, and the fantastic gym community. So, take a deep breath, step out of your comfort zone, and try connecting with new activities and new people. Never underestimate the impact of unexpected friendship.
P.s. If you happen to be in Belfast and hear a version of Silence by Delerium/Sarah McLachlan being sung loudly by some cyclists, feel free to join in!