5 Unexpected Benefits of Cycling
Cycling has many benefits for more mature riders, many you may not have considered. Health benefits including slowing the ageing process, reducing the chance of falls in everyday life, improved mental health and overall improvements in wellbeing.
1 Cycling Can Boost Your Mental Health
Just like physical health, your mental health can decline with age. Even if you haven’t experienced any mental health issues during your life, your senior years can bring a host of new challenges.
The risk of cognitive degenerative disease increases with age as does boredom and loneliness which can lead to depression and anxiety.
Sleep and mental health are closely connected - poor sleep is thought to contribute to psychiatric disorders. Difficulty sleeping is one of the main complaints of seniors. They can have trouble falling asleep and staying asleep for a full night’s rest. Exercising outside in fresh air can improve both the quality and quantity of sleep.
Unless you use a stationary exercise bike in front of the TV, cycling gets you out in the great outdoors. Enjoying a ride outside gives you a dose of vitamin D and fresh air. Sunlight is the only natural way for your body to get vitamin D which helps improve mood and reduces stress levels. Exercise also takes your mind off worries and allows you to de-stress.
2 Boost Your Immune System
Cycling can help your immune system fight off nasty bugs. The thymus organ is responsible for the body’s immune cells (called T Cells). From the age of 20, the thymus shrinks and our immune system declines by 2-3% each year. By middle age, the thymus is down to 15% of its maximum size so the body relies on the antibodies it has gained from fighting germs over the years.
A study by Aging Cell of 125 long distance cyclists aged in their 80s found their immune systems were robust because they were producing as many T cells as someone in their 20s. Physical activity like cycling can help the body flush out bacteria from the lungs and airways which reduces the chance of a cold or flu taking hold. A rise in body temperature while exercising also prevents bacteria from growing and fights infection.
3 Slow Down the Ageing Process
As we move into our later years, it’s normal to lose muscle mass. Our muscles’ ability to contract reduces due to fat and connective tissue. When seniors stop being active, the rate of muscle loss speeds up and they age faster.
In a study that compared the health of cyclists aged between 55 and 79 to a group of healthy non-cyclists of the same age, the cyclists were healthier. They had preserved muscle mass and strength compared to those that didn’t cycle and had maintained stable levels of body fat with better cholesterol levels. Men in the cyclists group also had higher testosterone levels.
Cycling can increase your lifespan by reducing the risk of chronic disease. In a UK study of 260,000 adults, those that cycled cut their risk of death from all causes by 40%.
Cycling is also a form of vigorous activity that protects telomere length. Shortened telomere cause ageing and cell death. Regular exercise can save up to nine years of reduced cellular deterioration..
4 Reduce Risk and Symptoms of Alzheimer’s Disease
Research shows exercise can delay, if not prevent, Alzheimer’s Disease and dementia. From middle age, people should exercise not only for their physical health but also their mental health.
Exercise can reduce the levels of tau, a protein in the brain linked to Alzheimer’s. Exercise increases blood flow in the memory and processing centre of the brain which can improve attention, planning and organising.
Symptoms of mental health conditions can reduce with exercise. A study showed aerobic exercise improves Alzheimer’s-related changes in the brain. Two years of regular exercise, brain training and healthy eating can boost memory function.
5 Less Stress on the Joints
For many seniors, running or even walking for long distances is out of the question. Both activities can stress worn-out or injured joints while cycling is an exercise that places very little pressure on most joints. Casual walking can cause forces of three times your body weight across both knees while running can be as much as five and a half times. The more weight you carry, the more stress on your joints.
Swimming is often recommended to people who can’t bear weight while exercising. The water makes the body buoyant and allows the swimmer to exercise bearing little to no weight on injured or stressed joints. But not everyone is a good swimmer or has access to a pool.
Cycling strengthens knee muscles without traumatising the joint. A stronger knee muscle means less chance of injury. However, cycling can cause knee pain in some people. The more weight and uphill pedalling you do, the greater force placed on the knees.
Knee replacement patients often cycle a stationary bike a week or two after surgery to improve mobility in their new knee. In the early days it isn’t possible to pedal a full circle so the patient will pedal forward as far forward as possible, hold the position for a few seconds before pedalling back and repeating. Once the knee can bend to 90 degrees, they can pedal all the way round.
Experts recommend that people with osteoporosis cycle because it moves the knee through a range of motions and strengthens surrounding muscles. Weight bearing exercises like jogging can injure the spine, hips, knees and ankles.
Keep Your Cycling Safe
The right equipment can make all the difference to stay safe on your bike.
A fall from a bike can be dangerous at any age. Always wear a helmet, sturdy shoes and light coloured or high-vis clothing so motorists can see you.
Gloves, long sleeved tops and full length pants can offer your skin some protection if you have a fall.
If you are buying a new bike, A good quality bike seat should give you a more comfortable ride.
Like any new physical activity, it’s best to ease into it. Start slow and don’t ask too much from your body, especially if you haven’t been exercising regularly.
If you are thinking of taking up cycling and you haven’t exercised in a while, consult your GP or an exercise physiologist for advice first.