Geriatric cyclists is a controversial issue; experts can’t seem to agree whether it helps or hurts. Not long ago, a doctor, Michael Yaremchuk, wrote a column in which he claimed that riding bikes for seniors wasn’t a recommended activity to stay fit because they are likely to end up injured. Is this true?
Not quite; it is a perfect case of a logical fallacy. To assume that when seniors ride bikes they will get hurt is wrong. The likely reason they may end up with injuries is inexperience, not paying attention as they ride or wrong riding technique.
The truth is, bikes are perfectly safe for seniors and there are many examples to prove this. A recent survey in the United States shows that seniors make up nearly 30% of new riders in recent years. 31% of all registrations for biking events were by seniors aged over 55. In the Netherlands, 17% of people over 65 cycle every day.
There are many more statistics that go to show that cycling for seniors is not only safe but healthy.
Why Cycling Is a Great Sport for Seniors
Bike riding is a great option for seniors for so many reasons. First, it’s low-impact so it’s easier on our joints than many other sports, e.g., running. Cycling is an excellent cardiovascular exercise as it gets our heart rates pumping and burns those calories, thus improving our overall fitness level.
In addition to the many health benefits, cycling can also reduce our physiological age.
A New York Times article referencing a 2015 British study of recreational bicyclists ages 55 to 79 stated that “… the cyclists did not show their age. On almost all measures, their physical functioning remained fairly stable across the decades and was much closer to that of young adults than of people their age.”
An AARP article reports: “evidence is mounting that moderate physical activity such as biking can prevent a host of ailments – including diabetes, Alzheimer’s, cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure and colon cancer – in people of all ages by at least 40 percent.”
While we were busy raising families and building careers, many of us left our old bikes in garages or attics rusting away. The good news is that, in most cases, it’s not too late to get started again.
Benefits of Geriatric Cyclists
1. 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.
2. Slow Down the Ageing Process
It might not grant eternal youth, but cycling, scientists have found, can slow the aging process and keep your muscles and immune system healthy well into your golden years.
Aging, it turns out, can do a number on your muscles. Humans typically lose muscle mass as they get older. Fat and connective tissue also start invading, affecting the muscles’ ability to contract. Furthermore, muscles can no longer suck up oxygen at the same rates.
However, a new study questioned if these age-related muscle declines are inevitable, or if regular exercise—cycling, in this case—can slow down or even reverse them.
To figure this out, researchers at King’s College in London biopsied the vastus lateralis muscle—the largest and most powerful part of the quad—in 125 male and female cyclists. Participants were all between 55 and 79 years old and deemed highly active (meaning the men could bike at least 62 miles at 15 mph, and the women 37 miles at 7 mph, twice within three weeks).
The researchers then analyzed muscle properties related to aerobic function and explosive muscle power. They found that, compared to sedentary populations, the cyclists showed less age-related muscle deterioration. That is, at the tissue level, muscle mass and strength stayed intact.
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% and cut their risk of cancer and heart disease by 45%.
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.
But it can be difficult to keep cycling with age. Degeneration of joints and muscles or balance issues mean seniors have to eventually give up cycling.
A disability and rehabilitation study of people with osteoporosis, knee replacement patients and people with ligament injuries showed their ability to ride a bike reduces by 5% annually. The rate of decline in women is 1.98 times greater for women than it is for men. A high body mass index increases the chance of experiencing pain while riding by 8%.
Safe alternatives are to switch from a regular bike to an electric bike with a built in motor to assist with pedalling. When uneven surfaces and conditions make it dangerous for a senior to ride, they can swap to an indoor stationary bike for some of the continued health benefits.
3. Cycling is great for your heart
Stroke, heart disease, and heart attacks are the most common cause of death for seniors. Cycling is a great way to keep these chronic ailments at bay. Riding a bicycle is a great way to increase your heart’s capacity. Your body needs more oxygen to keep you going, forcing your heart to pump harder in order to keep cells properly oxygenated so that they can release the energy needed to help you keep going. As you become a better cyclist your heart becomes even stronger and reduces the odds that you will suffer a heart-related ailment.
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. Improved Balance Reduces the Risk of Falls
The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates 28-35% of people over the age of 65 suffer from a fall each year. Seniors have an increased risk of falling because of:
- Health conditions such as heart disease
- Impairments like vision loss
- Other illnesses that affect balance
People can fall at any age, but muscle weakness and limited joint movement increases the risk of slips, falls and trips in seniors. In older people, the injuries sustained from a fall are more serious. Seniors have thinner skin which bruises and cuts easily, and bones are more likely to fracture and break, particularly if they have osteoporosis.
Cycling is an ideal exercise for improving balance. Keeping yourself and your bike upright helps with balance throughout the day.
Balance requires the brain to receive messages from muscles, joints, eyes and ears and respond. But the link between the brain and muscles breaks down if muscles aren’t being used to their potential. Riding a bike is excellent practice for your brain to respond quickly to changes in surroundings. Coordination and posture also improves from using a bike, both of which help with balance.
One of the main benefits of bike riding is strengthening muscles. Riding increases leg, glute and core muscles which all help later in life to get up from the chair and to stop ourselves from falling over. Keeping muscles and bones strong help with movement and flexibility.
Senior bike riding is perfectly safe and has many health benefits. It will help you lose weight, stay strong, avoid chronic illness, stay mentally alert and live longer.
There are some safety concerns regarding cycling for seniors, but they shouldn’t dissuade you. So long as you take the proper precautions every time you go out on your bike you will be safe.
If you are buying a new bike, ask to test ride a few to see what type suits you better. Racing bikes require you to sit hunched over compared to others that allow you to sit more upright. A good quality bike seat should give you a more comfortable ride.
If you are looking for a new way of commuting or want a healthier lifestyle, we are here to help you. Visit our website to learn more about electric bikes and electric scooter or please leave information to us.