Can mountain biking support those experiencing mental ill health?

Pilot project in Scottish Borders will be assessed by Edinburgh Napier and Mountain Bike Centre of Scotland

Date posted

22 January 2019


An innovative pilot project in the Scottish Borders has found that mountain biking could have a positive effect on people currently experiencing mental ill health.

Developing Mountain Biking in Scotland (DMBinS), in partnership with Scottish Borders Health and Social Care Partnerships, Galashiels Resource Centre and Edinburgh Napier University recently ran a six-week programme, which saw mountain biking form part of a therapeutic recovery programme for people experiencing mental ill health.

Running from August to September last year, the project saw all 10 participants traveling from across the Borders to the internationally renowned mountain biking centre at Glentress near Peebles.

Participants were supplied with bikes and helmets from Alpine Bikes store at Glentress before embarking on a two-hour mountain bike ride led by qualified leaders from DMBinS with additional support from other local volunteers.

Gala Resource Centre staff were also on hand throughout the session to reinforce individual strategies that each person could use to manage their own challenges and difficulties.

The pilot project was born out of a client need to provide a therapeutic approach within a non-clinical environment to promote the use of self-management skills to improve physical and mental health.

Given the superb selection of natural and manmade trails and associated facilities within the Scottish Borders, mountain biking was seen as the ideal activity to meet this requirement.

Graeme McLean, DMBinS, Project Manager, said: “This was an amazing pilot to be involved with. Every week we went away buzzing from enjoyment everyone was getting from the rides.

“We were keen to help this programme to happen by delivering the weekly sessions. We wanted to understand if mountain biking aided people’s recovery from a period of mental ill health, how we as leaders could learn from the experience and, using our role within mountain biking in Scotland, how we could take these learnings and spread them across Scotland.”

The pilot programme will be evaluated by world-renowned sports psychologist, Tony Westbury of Edinburgh Napier University and Mountain Bike Centre of Scotland.

He said: “We think this a fantastic programme and through our observations we can see that the participants really enjoyed mountain biking and the experience provided by DMBinS. We will be studying the impact of the programme from the participants’ perspective and also collecting the learnings from the leaders and occupational therapists involved into how the programme could be developed, improved and escalated into the future.”

Robert McCulloch-Graham, Chief Officer Health and Social Integration for the Partnership, added: “This was a hugely innovative and exciting project and I am delighted to hear that our clients found it to be so beneficial. It certainly seems to have been one of the best-attended programmes the Partnership has delivered with staff reporting an exceptional response from everyone taking part. Not only did they find it useful to be able to work with participants in a real life setting, they were also able to observe some genuine progress being made in terms of personal resilience, self-efficacy, social skills and confidence.”

Once assessed, a decision will be made by the project partners for future options to continue the programme.

Learn more about the innovative project here: