It seems that many older people are cycling for their health as well as for the fun of being on the bike.
Of course it’s not just cycling, cycling is a form of exercise and exercise generally is good for your health in a whole range of areas. However for us older people cycling is a fun, stimulating, social and low impact way to get our exercise.
So lets see what you’re working on while you’re pedalling.
The effect of cycling on the brain
Firstly I’d like to talk about your brain. I do so as this is an area that interests me. I’ve been finding, as probably many of you have, that as you get older your brain starts to slow up a little. Your memory seems to slow up as well.
So the good news is that research at Illinois University has found that improving your cardiorespiratory fitness as a result of cycling can lead to an improvement of up to 15 percent in mental tests.
The suggestion from the research is that improving the flow of blood to the brain helps improve the flow of oxygen to the brain which can actually help the brain rebuild itself, and that this can even, potentially, help prevent or reduce the risk of the onset of degenerative mental diseases like Alzheimer’s.
And a study undertaken at Bowling Green State University has reported that even 10 minutes of cycling can improve your mood.
Improve your immune system
Cycling for 30 minutes a day 5 days a week can result in less sick days. A study at the University of North Carolina found that people who cycle take half as many sick days as people who do no exercise. This has also been confirmed by a very recent study.
The theory is that exercise improves the ability of your immune cells to fight off infection.
Improve your sex life and delay the inevitable
There is now significant evidence that regular exercise can improve your blood circulation and that this can, amongst other things, help improve your sex drive.
And women have been found to be able to delay menopause for between 2 and 5 years by keeping physically fit.
A study from Harvard University has found that men aged over 50 will have a 30 percent lower risk of impotence if they cycle for at least 3 hours a week compared to sedentary friends.
Lose weight by cycling
There’s no doubt that exercise generally is a big part of the equation when it comes to losing weight. Whilst exercise alone is probably insufficient, exercising and watching your intake will play a huge part in a weight loss program.
In fact cycling is the perfect activity for overweight people who would like to take up regular exercise and lose weight. The reason that cycling is so good for overweight and obese people is that around 70% of the body weight is supported by the saddle and bike, which means that other parts of the body, like the joints, are spared a lot of the damage that can result from other more weight bearing forms of exercise.
And whilst cycling burns calories it’s not just while you’re on the bike that you’re burning up those calories. Staying fit helps improve your metabolism, which also helps use calories faster after you’ve stopped riding.
Studies are showing that regular exercise can lengthen life. And that makes sense given that there are specific health benefits from cycling and exercise in general. Less health problems equates to a longer life I’m sure.
One massive Taiwanese study (416000 adults) showed that exercise to an average level of 92 minutes a week had a 14% reduction in all cause mortality and a three year longer life expectancy. And more exercise improved the results further.
And there’s more……….
There’s more benefits of cycling to your health and fitness, for example it can help reduce the risk of breast cancer (by 34 percent), colon cancer, diabetes and more. It’s long but worth the read for anyone who wants to pursue this further.
How should you do your cycling?
A secondary question is whether or not you get more benefits to your health from moderate but longer periods of exercise or whether you are better exercising strenuously for shorter periods of time.
And in fact that’s a question that was examined in a recent documentary I have seen that suggested strongly that the evidence is now pointing towards the fact that it is the level of effort which is expended which is more important than the length of time the exercise is undertaken.
The suggestion is that where you are working as hard as you can you are attracting more of the health benefits than where you are simply exercising at a gentle level but for a longer period of time. In fact the documentary I saw suggested that 3 very short periods of intense workout, with a rest in between, 3 times a week, provides substantial health benefits over and above that provided by much longer but lower intensity exercise.
So what’s the takeaway?
It seems very clear to me from extensive evidence that there is a wide range of areas where you can improve your health, both physical and mental, from taking up cycling and maintaining a steady regime. There seems to me to be little doubt that cycling, as well as other exercise, can have a huge impact on your health and well-being in a number of areas.
And of course this applies equally, if not more so, to us slightly older people who are more at risk of some of the lifestyle diseases at our stage of life.
There is also strong suggestions that the intensity of your workout is more important than the length of time it is undertaken, though I think that, in the limited research I’ve done, is still under review.
And of course high intensity workouts is what interval training is all about of course.
And of course, as with all these things, you should have a good checkup before you undertake any exercise not part of your normal routine, particularly if you have pre-existing health conditions.