Can Everyday Biking Keep Us Young?

Some say that cycling makes them feel younger. As it turns out, cycling may actually fight the signs of aging.

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Photo via Flickr by Pablo Andrés Rivero

Photo via Flickr by Pablo Andrés Rivero

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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14 Comments

  • Angus B

    When I retired, I had just been diagnosed with Chronic Lymphotic Leukemia. I always biked intermittently but retirement let me do so more frequently. I’ve outlived three separate prognoses from my specialist that I should likely expect no more than 6-12 months. I’ve just finished about 1,000 km this year without doing any more than taking my bike to the local shops. Could not agree more with the conclusion that riding a bicycle is great for your health. Someone should do a scientific study to validate what we all suspect anecdotally.

  • Matt Chambers

    I’m 55 and still racing with the young bucks,

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p9YPNisuRqo

  • This article is very inspiring for me. I am 65 years young. I was a distance runner and still doing a 10,000 meter (6.2 mile) (slow) run in 2001. But now, like many our age, the knees are not liking the pounding of running. The fitness machines, like an elliptical machine are a help, but being outdoors in the fresh air and the fun feeling of riding a bike, give a much better feeling of well-being !

  • Duan Cannon

    Currently 58, been a casual cyclist since 50! Have osteoarthritis & fibromyalgia and have been able to avoid knee surgery. Met lots of cool people too!

  • James Rosar

    As a lifelong distance and daily cyclist, I astonish folks who learn my age. At 56, I easily pass for fifteen years younger. Most others I have met with a similar history get similar results. Spend an evening at a cycle club gathering and witness the results upon the most active elders.
    The more often I ride until I feel old, the less I age!

  • Mo Hyland

    I think I might die without my bikes and biking…

  • John Biggins

    Oh, and I forgot to mention the French sporting cyclist M. Robert Marchand of the city of Amiens, who was born on 26 November 1911. A couple of years ago the Fédération Française de Cyclisme was obliged to create a new age category “riders over 100 years old” to allow him to go on competing.

    A former fireman, lumberjack in Venezuela and Canada and lifelong member of the French Communist Party, M. Marchand can just recall German troops in their spiked helmets marching through the suburbs of Amiens in August 1914.

    http://www.independent.co.uk/sport/general/others/cycling-102yearold-frenchman-robert-marchand-beats-own-world-record-9101226.html

  • S Sides

    At 80 I am an avid femaler cycler and agree with all the above.

  • John Biggins

    If there were any doubt in the matter, it should be laid to rest by this recent article in the British Guardian newspaper about the 93-year old WW2 veteran Mr. Norman Ellis Gregory who cycles daily in the county of Suffolk where he lives, and reckons to accumulate some 3-4,000 miles per year.

    http://www.theguardian.com/environment/bike-blog/2015/feb/23/a-wwii-veterans-lifelong-love-for-cycling

    He looks an sounds a good thirty years younger than his birth-certificate age.

  • Eleanor Fry

    I’m 79 years young,never had a bicycle til I was 46.Started doing day rides and then week trips across Michigan.Have done West Shore to East Shore trip 27 times of the 33 years of PALM.Husband & I drove to Tenn. 9 years and did their week trip and twice in NorthCarolina and one in Indiana.Love cycling.Have a new trail near where I live,bought a new bicycle and have ridden on it several times,now have snowshoed on it twice.

  • Love it! Just goes to prove being physically active as you age is a very good thing

  • Nan

    I’m 62 and an avid cyclist. I pull my Beagle, Daisy behind me in a Houndabout. Together we are just as happy as flies on cow poop!

  • Brian Lehman

    Pretty much painfully obvious, but, heck, why not reiterate again and again. I ride every day and know that I am far healthier than I was 10 years ago when I took it up again after a 2 decade break.

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