Dr Hollie Fountain, Dr Lesley Ingram-Sills and Dr Tony Westbury, researchers from Edinburgh Napier, have been part of a project to assess the benefits of mountain biking on mental health through trail therapy.

What is trail therapy?

Trail therapy is a social prescription mountain biking programme, aiming to share the joys of mountain biking with individuals who have an existing mental health diagnosis. The programme is run by Developing Mountain Biking in Scotland (DMBinS) and was designed to help riders grow in confidence and improve social interactions on their road to wellbeing. Participants are referred onto a 6 – 8 week block of sessions with a qualified mountain bike leader and trained volunteers in a group setting.

What is the link between exercise and mental health?

The World Health Organisation has reported a 13% increase in mental health conditions recorded in the last ten years. Whilst exercising cannot completely replace clinical interventions for mental health, it can improve mood, self esteem and life satisfaction. Existing physical activity schemes like Health Walks through Paths for All and surf therapy from The Wave Project, have been shown to have a positive impact on mental health.

What impact does trail therapy have on mental health? 

The research set out to evaluate the impact of the trail therapy programme delivered by DMBinS, exploring the effects on mental wellbeing and being in the outdoors, as well as the structure of the programme.

The participants reflected on their experiences positively, emphasising a holistic impact on their overall wellbeing. The quotes shared give an insight into the positive impact that trail therapy is making.

“His confidence has grown. On his bike, skills have grown. They come hand in hand I think.”

“We are riding in a group, for the outsider looking…no one knows what that group's about. Just a bunch of bikers who are riding together, smiling, having fun, being challenged…I think Mountain bikes are a beautiful tool.”

“The opportunities for people to have conversations not over a table, not face to face with a councillor or a therapist, not a clinical environment, but out on a bike side by side is amazing. There's no white eye contact, it's not threatening, it's informal and sometimes that's the best kind of therapy we've got, you know.”

“I would definitely recommend it because I think, it doesn't really matter what you're going through... I think it can be helpful for anyone. You've got nice people around you, you can bike and it’s just you in the middle of the woods and there's nobody else and you’ve got no worries. You know, I think it's. I think it's great.”

Interested in learning more about trail therapy and mountain biking?

Visit the Developing Mountain Biking in Scotland website for more information about trail therapy and their work to deliver the Scottish Mountain Bike Strategy.

Visit the Mountain Bike Centre for Scotland website for more information about their research and consultancy expertise for the cycling Industry.

The report was produced by Edinburgh Napier University as part of Developing Mountain Biking in Scotland’s programme of work on fostering mental health and wellbeing through mountain biking, funded by NatureScot.