Have you heard? New research has shown that older adults who cycle can actually slow down the aging process and boost their body’s immunity. As you’ve gotten older, you may have noticed some of the natural parts of the ageing process taking place, like:
- Muscle loss and weakness
- Reduced lung function
- Hormone changes
- Decreased immunity
- Joint wear-and-tear
- Heart slowing down
- Reduced bone density
- Age-related hearing loss
Even your brain gets smaller as you age. That doesn’t mean you can’t do anything to slow or even reverse the ageing process though.
Through muscle biopsies of highly active men and women between the ages of 55 and 79, researchers at King’s College in London found that compared to their sedentary counterparts, active older adults who cycled maintained more muscle mass and strength. Additional studies has revealed that older adults who cycle regularly are also more likely to produce immune-boosting white blood cells at rates comparable to young adults, and that regular physical fitness with cycling can also protect the body against cell deterioration.
Benefits of Cycling for Older Adults
Not only does cycling play a key role in fighting ageing, but it is one of the best fitness activities you can do to benefit your overall health.
Benefits of cycling for older adults include:
- Less joint strain – as a low-impact activity, cycling places less stress on critical joints like the knees, ankles, and hips. That means less pain and inflammation, especially for people with joint conditions like arthritis, as well as less wear-and-tear on your musculoskeletal system in general.
- Travelling activity – few fitness activities have the travelling benefit that cycling has. Cycling not only keeps you fit but can help you get from one place to the next, whether you’re riding up a few blocks to see a friend or go to the store. Cycling around your town is also a great way to re-acquaint yourself with your community and get out of the house.
- Cardio boost – as an aerobic activity, cycling gives your heart a strong workout, strengthening your overall cardiovascular system and helping stave off common lifestyle diseases like diabetes, obesity, hypertension, and stroke.
- Preserve strength – fighting muscle loss as you age can seem like an uphill battle. Cycling helps to preserve muscle mass and therefore strength by engaging muscle groups in the legs and core. More strength and flexibility in your lower limbs can also improve your mobility prospects as you age.
- Help you live longer – a 2017 study published in the BMJ found that people who commuted to work each day via bicycle had a lower risk of death compared to people who did not and a lower risk of developing cancer and cardiovascular disease.
Tips for Getting Started
While it might be easy to hop on a bike and get right back into the groove of riding like you did when you were a kid, there are some precautions you want to take as an older adult to prevent injury and stay safe.
- Consult a bike specialist – even though cycling is considered a low-impact activity, you can still strain the tendons in and around the knee if your bike is not adjusted for your height correctly or if the gears generate too much resistance for your legs.
- Wear protection – you will never regret wearing a bike helmet (and other protective padding on your knees and elbows), especially if you happen to fall or collide with something. Helmets absorb the shock of your head making impact with something hard like the ground. This protects your skull, your brain, and your neck.
- Ramp up gradually – going all out on your first bike ride might feel exhilarating at first, but it can take its toll on you in the following days. Ramp up the distance you ride and the number of hills or other terrains you incorporate into your rides gradually over time; this allows your body to progressively build strength and endurance and lowers your risk of injury.
- Use a bike for transportation – instead of scheduling bike riding simply as a weekly workout, try to weave in more of it in your daily life as you run errands and make social calls. Biking to work, parties, outings, the store, church, you name it can help you develop a real love for the sport that sticks with you well into your golden years.
- Combine with other activities – spice up your workout routine by adding a variety of activities. In addition to cycling, you might try aqua aerobics, yoga, hiking, Nordic pole walking, badminton, and dancing!
And of course, prior to launching into a new fitness regimen, always discuss your plans with your doctor. Their insights and encouragement can be very helpful!