Larry Patterson was 62 years old when his attitude toward biking shifted. “I had broken my back. I was lying in the hospital, and I thought, if I can get up and go, I’m going to do something for me. I’m going cycling,” said Patterson. Seven years later, Patterson cycles as much as he can and feels great because of it. Physically, Patterson admits that cycling has kept him off the couch and kept him fit, and he strongly believes it’s responsible for helping him recover quickly from heart operations.
Larry White, age 69 and a member of the Old Spokes cycling group in Calgary, AB, with Patterson, also believes cycling is what’s keeping him healthy as he ages. “I’ve been active for a long time, but now I cycle mainly for health and wellbeing,” said White. “My knees don’t allow me to run any more, but I can ride and ride and ride.”
Both Patterson and White say that cycling makes them feel younger, and as it turns out, research may soon prove that this is more than just a feeling. A recent article by Gretchen Reynolds in the New York Times highlighted a study conducted by scientists at King’s College London and the University of Birmingham. The scientists performed physical and cognitive tests on more than 100 seniors who cycle regularly, and then again on inactive seniors. After looking at the volunteers’ endurance capacity, muscular mass and strength, pedaling power, metabolic health, balance, memory function, bone density ,and reflexes, the study determined that seniors that cycle don’t age like inactive seniors. Physiologically, they resemble much younger people.
Another study, conducted in 2011 by the Department of Human Movement and Sports Sciences at the University of Rome, discovered something similar. Scientists examined how aging and ventilation were affected by cycling and found that young, untrained individuals and older, trained individuals had a similar maximal oxygen uptake. This study also found that, in certain ways, older cyclists resemble much younger people physiologically.
While both of the above studies examined serious leisure riders, there are also physical benefits to more leisurely, everyday cycling for seniors. Byron Kidd, an urban cycling expert and the man behind the Tokyo By Bike blog, highlights the popularity of leisurely cycling among seniors in Japan. And interestingly, Japan boasts the highest life expectancy in the world. It’s known that just half an hour of moderate cycling a day can increase muscle strength, flexibility, and improve mobility, but a benefit specific to seniors is improved balance, which can prevent falls and fractures.
Aging can also affect individuals mentally and socially. An analysis by Health Quality Ontario found that, “social relationships are a core element of quality of life for seniors. Several related concepts – reduced social contact, being alone, isolation, and feelings of loneliness – have all been associated with a reduced quality of life in older people.”
Cycling is a good way to reduce isolation and improve mental wellbeing in seniors. Roxanne LeBlanc, age 59, is a cyclist who uses her bike for exercise, commuting, and running errands. “Cycling is a bridge builder,” said LeBlanc. “This social side of cycling is especially important as people age, as our social circles become more limited. Cycling is a good way to connect with people.”
While the physiological benefits of cycling on aging continue to be studied, the mental and social benefits for seniors are undeniable. Depending on who you ask, cycling acts like the fountain of youth. “Cycling allows you to feel like a kid again!” said LeBlanc.“And if that isn’t a good enough reason to keep at it, I don’t know what is.”
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