Recreational cycling, arguably the best sport in the world, just got better. A study published in the Journal of Physiology claims that serious road cyclists may be able to turn back the clock on aging.
Recently, researchers from King’s College London and the University of Birmingham looked at how exercise affects health and physiology as we age. They studied 125 serious recreational cyclists (84 male; 41 female) ages 55 to 79.
What do they mean by “serious cyclists”? The male subjects had to be able to cycle 100 km in 6.5 hrs, and the women 60 km in 5.5 hrs. They also had to have covered those distances twice in the three weeks preceding the study. What was the reason for the vast difference in criteria between the sexes? Unbelievably, it was due to a “paucity” of women road cyclists over the age of 55. (Really? Say it ain’t so!)
But the subjects also had to be in general good health. Smokers, cyclists who drank too much alcohol and those with any known cardiovascular, musculoskeletal or neurological conditions were excluded. Individuals with hypertension or who were on any medications were also excluded. Think: highly active older people who are miles ahead of most of their cohorts when it comes to health.
The study measured their endurance capacity, muscular mass and strength, pedaling power, metabolic health, balance, memory function, bone density and reflexes.
What they learned
It turns out that these highly active cyclists had aged differently than sedentary folks. In fact, in a New York Times article one of the researchers was quoted saying, “If you gave this dataset to a clinician and asked him to predict the age it would be impossible.” On paper, they all look young.
The take home message
Before you get too excited, it’s important to note that the researchers also said that aging is highly individual and that further studies need to be done to find accurate markers of biological aging. That said, this summer while you’re outside churning the pedals over hill and dale, remember, you’re not just having fun, you’re tipping the scales in your favour for a healthier old age.