I’m sure it’s a given in all our minds that cycling has appreciable health benefits, both physical and mental, irrespective of what age you are, from the very youngest to the oldest and wisest among us. For me, it’s been getting to the 50-plus age group that’s focused my mind a bit on my health. Not excessively. But a bit! I don’t have any insurmountable health issues, just that, well, at this age, you start to notice little health niggles that could have potential to be more if left to their own devices! And to those little health niggles, I say: thank heavens for cycling! 🙂
Hello, Dear Reader (or viewer!)… which reminds me, if you haven’t had a look already, I’ve started off this four part series about the benefits of cycling over 50 with a vid on the CyclingQuestions YouTube channel. Click the link, take a look! 🙂 So hey, it’s great to have you back! I totally appreciate you looking in. So I’d like us to have a think about why we love our cycling. I guess sometimes, in the cold depths of winter which it is as I type this, we can forget why we love cycling. I think it’s good to have a check-in with ourselves. And on that note, if you’ve any points on what you most love about your own cycling and that you’d consider sharing, I’d absolutely love to hear! Get in touch as ever in the comments or contact form! But yeah, health niggles do seem to be more frequent passing the 50-plus age boundary. And because of that, I mean I’ve always been happy to be a cyclist. But I think I’m even happier to be a cyclist at this time of my life! #nolie haha 😀
So what are the over-50 health and fitness benefits of cycling for me?
Briefly – and I’ll explain these a little more – but I like the idea of gaining physical competence from cycling. I like feeling physically capable of handling what I need to handle in the course of my daily life. That might be physical work: lifting, moving, carrying and simply getting about with a degree of flexibility and suppleness. It can also refer to having a functional immune system – especially for this time of year (it’s early Feb) and it’s cold / flu season.
What exactly do I mean by physical competence?
… And competent for what? I guess that’s the question. By this I don’t mean that we’ve got the physical prowess to be taking on all-comers at cycling, winning tours and vueltas season after season haha. Nope. But if that’s you, good on ya! #keep’erlit 😀 But I don’t necessarily even mean physical competence as a cyclist – though that’s a big part of it for us as cyclists. No, I mean physical competence simply as a person. I mean having the physical abilities to do what we need to do on a day-to-day basis. Maybe your job requires lifting or moving, maybe carrying groceries from the store, washing the car, mowing your garden or collecting leaves. I mean getting about the place, being able to travel, having the physical fortitude to sit on a plane for several hours, that sort of thing.
In all the ways we need our bodies to be physically competent – able I mean – I think cycling is a fantastic activity. In my experience, specially over the last few years or so, my cycling is helping me in maintaining the physical abilities I have, or at least in not letting them slip too much.
Cycling, in common with all other resistance exercise, helps preserve muscle. And it’s not about pushing massive gear ratios either! 🙂 Two papers published in the Aging Cell journal, found that cycling helped preserve muscle mass and strength with age while helping to maintain stable levels of body fat and cholesterol as well as testosterone in men which is linked to muscle mass. I think for both men and women over 50 this maintenance of muscle mass is crucial to that feeling of physical competence.
The Land of Sarcopenia… Been there? Don’t goooooo!
Ha, I’m kidding. Sarcopenia is the term for our muscles losing strength and mass as we get older. As we age, we’ll have fewer muscle fibers than when we were younger. Resistance work – the kind we get from just getting out on our bikes and pushing the pedals – is one of the ways to mitigate the effects of this loss of function.
The great thing about cycling – and I mean no disrespect to gym folk – is that when you’re out on the bike hoofing it up a hill, it’s just you riding your bike – it doesn’t seem for me at least like the tough chore of lifting weights. Cycling doesn’t ever seem like a chore to me. Exercise is a chore for me. Cycling is tough sure, but it’s never a chore. What do you think? Agree? Let me know!
Not only that…
It’s been demonstrated not only that biking is a cardio-vascular system improver – I think we all know that. One study in the British Medical Journal established that regular cycling can cut the risk of cardio-vascular disease and cancer by 45%. But surprisingly perhaps – or maybe not for the cycling-evangelists among us – cycling can help reverse damage from heart aging from sedentary lifestyles – well, provided we get in there before we’re 65 years of age. If that’s you, get on it! 😀 I’m cracking the whip here haha.
While helping maintain heart and lung function – as an ex-asthmatic (see my article on cycling and asthma and how I cured mine) the freedom that cycling has given me is appreciable and measurable!
But as part of my cycling routine, I’ve noticed strength improvements in my legs, upper body and lower back too. Of course, I can certainly appreciate and understand that in some instances, cycling can exacerbate existing conditions – I’m thinking lower-back or knee issues. If that’s you, I’d urge you to consider those possibilities – not as precluding factors – but just for your own piece of mind if you’re thinking of starting cycling at 50+. For me personally, on my decidedly moderate bike rides (if proof were needed, just subscribe to my vid channel @CyclingQuestions on YouTube haha!), but for me personally the health benefits of cycling have been in all honesty something of a Godsend.
Cycling for back issues and sitbone pain in the saddle
As part of my daily function I’ll be sitting on my ass – my work is sedentary in that regard. I did suffer terribly from lower back issues to the extent that I’d waken up in pain each morning. As part of a technique that I found worked to alleviate sit bone pain in the saddle that I wrote about, I found that gently engaging my lower back muscles as well as slightly changing posture on the bike did a lot of good. Not just on the bike though! It’s made a difference day to day, in my work (sitting on my ass that is!)
In fact I hope the non-cycling version of me in some other dimension finds his way to a bike soon! Haha #oldschoolstartrek 😛 And on that note…
T-Cells? And Biking as an immune-booster
You know T-cells are white blood cells circulating within our body and that scan for cellular abnormalities and infections – they’re an essential component in human immunity. And good news as cyclists we got it covered! Research I referenced earlier in the Aging Cell journal, studied cyclists – endurance riders – but all octogenarians! And it demonstrated that those ageing riders, believe it or not, produced the same number of T-cells as twenty-somethings #nolie!
For me, as I mentioned in the video, that feels intuitively true. While sure, we all do fall prey to the occasional infection, that’s a given particularly at this time of year, it’s how we physically deal with it that separates those of us that need a week or ten days off of work from those that end up in the emergency room of the local hospital, right? All I know personally is the difference is plain to me when I’m not cycling from when I am. When I have a break from cycling – whether that’s enforced by ice or unrideable conditions, or just my own damned indolence – I feel somehow more susceptible to infections. And if I get something I’d feel less physically competent when it came to ridding myself of it. When I’m regularly cycling, especially over winter, I know I can handle it. Does that idea resonate as truth with you at all? Let me know! But that was the idea I was outlining on the vid 🙂
Cycling helps you feel physically younger too
And I don’t mean in some awful narcissistic way either #yikes haha :o. What I mean is that cycling just has that way of helping us feel younger than the version of us (what, the stuck-in-another-dimension version? haha) who isn’t or wasn’t a cyclist. In other words I believe we feel and act physically younger compared to how we’d feel and act if we didn’t cycle I mean 🙂 The British Heart Foundation agrees, stating… Getting on a bike can make you feel young again, as you speed along with the wind in your hair. Cycling releases invigorating bursts of endorphins, our feel-good neurotransmitters. I’m sure, as a cyclist, you know that as being intuitively true. And if you’re not (yet) a cyclist or are having a long layoff, why not consider getting back on the bike? #whatstolose 🙂
And I think the idea of just feeling physically younger probably encapsulates the notion of cycling for physical competence as we get to the over 50 age group and beyond.
Cycling declines as we age? Yes, but in context!
I’m sure some of you, like me, have been cycling since you were kids, maybe on and off, maybe continuously. But I think if we’ve been cycling for a while, then as we age we might notice inevitable performance declines. As a counsellor, I know loss can take many forms – and often grieving is part of even apparently trivial notions like this. Loss of cycling performance is a loss nonetheless. But I think to place emphasis on natural loss might be, in many ways to lose sight of the bigger picture, you know? While we can see our cycling levels drop from our peak, I’d hate for any of us to miss how we’re far more physically competent on a plain ol’ day-to-day basis than we would be if we didn’t cycle, if you follow.
As over-50 cyclists I think we tick all the boxes
So much about my idea of simple physical competence to just facilitate day-to-day living, coping and feeling perfectly fine, comes from the simple act of just getting out on your bike. I’m an absolute believer in that. And nor was it any other way! I hope you feel the same. I’m writing this now in the midst of winter here in the northern hemisphere because I know my own tendencies to look out the window and think, nah, I’ll just skip this ride. But as I’ve aged I’ve increasingly become aware of the tangible detriments from laziness and the concrete, backed-up-by-science benefits of just getting out there and having a fun ride.
For me, cycling is and always has been a fun activity. I hope it is for you too, whatever way you ride your bike. Cycling will never be a chore for me. Because I don’t allow it to be! It’s not a concept that’s in my mind. But I have a tendency to be lazy. Maybe we all do? That’s why I got so many hacks, tricks and tips for staying motivated, because they’re all ones I use on a regular basis haha. One thing doesn’t change and that’s the enjoyment and love I have of cycling. Can’t see that changing any time soon. Or ever lol.
So here’s the vid I mentioned earlier…
Thanks again for checking in, Dear Reader. This is the first of four parts. So please do check back for the following three parts of this series. I’ll be talking 2. physical calming and energizing from cycling, 3. respiratory benefits of cycling and 4. gaining and maintaining mental balance and equanimity from cycling. Hope to see you again for those! Meantime, take care when you’re out, have fun as ever and ride safe. Kindest, warmest regards, Dear Reader, from me to you, David.