Dressing up in skin-tight Lycra and pounding the highways on a road bike may not sound like the way to age gracefully but scientists have found that older cyclists show fewer signs of ageing compared with non-cyclists.
Cycling – and heavy exercise in general – may be exhausting but it also appears to be the route to Shangri-La or something approximating the fountain of youth, according to one interpretation of the findings.
Scientists who analysed the physiological functions of more than 120 regular cyclists aged between 55 and 79 failed to find any of the obvious signs of ageing that they would normally observe among people of the same age.
The volunteers – 84 men and 41 women – had to be able to cycle 100 km (62 miles) in six and half hours for men and 60km in less than 5.5 hours for women. Smokers, heavy drinkers and those with high blood pressure and other health conditions were automatically excluded.
The super-fit group of elder cyclists were monitored in a laboratory for two days with a battery of tests to measure their cardiovascular, respiratory, neuromuscular, metabolic, endocrine and cognitive functions – in addition to bone strength and general health and well-being.
The result was that the cyclists as a group showed few of the typical signs of ageing and that it was not possible to made generalisations about the aging process, according to Steve Harridge of King’s College London, the senior author of the study published in the Journal of Physiology.
“In general, we didn’t find the ageing we would expect to see in this age profile. We found some factors were correlated with ageing, but not strongly correlated, and some that were not correlated at all,” Dr Harridge said.
10 best cycling clothes
10 best cycling clothes
1/10 Altura Night Vision Evo Jacket
With reflective trim on all sides and along the zips, you’ll light up like a Christmas tree in this. Available in red, yellow and black, it is waterproof and breathable, with front and rear pockets and vent panels. Forgotten your lights? Fear not – there’s a removable rear LED. £89.99, milletsports.co.uk
2/10 Ocealis Damart Women’s Short-Sleeved T-Shirt
This base layer will keep you cool in warmer weather. The shirt, which has antibacterial and odour resistant properties, is designed with movement in mind and is made to ensure maximum comfort during strenuous exercise. £25, damart.co.uk
3/10 Fat Lad At The Back Short-Sleeved Cycle Jersey
Designed for larger cyclists, these jerseys are longer to avoid riding up, as well as alterations to the shape and girth in crucial areas. Garment sizes are based on actual waist and chest measurements rather than traditional XXL sizing, so you will avoid any embarrassing bulges. £49.99, fatladattheback.com
4/10 Fat Face Activ88 Capri Leggings
Soft to the touch, these three-quarter-length leggings will do just as well for biking as for the gym. They are made with an antibacterial finish which prevents unpleasant odours and helps to stop a build-up of sweat. With a handy zip pocket, you can keep keys safe, too. £38, fatface.com
5/10 B’twin 700 Ultralight Cycling Gilet
This ultra-lightweight gilet is perfect for those overcast windy days or for long descents. Made from fully windproof fabric, it is so small it can easily fit in the palm of your hand when stashed in its storage bag. And weighing in at less than 50g, you’ll forget you’re carrying it. £19.99, decathlon.co.uk
6/10 Halo Cycling Cap
Fitting comfortably under any helmet, the flexible visor effectively keeps the glare – and rain – out of your eyes. The smooth mesh top is made from breathable fabric to keep your head cool and the headband helps to channel sweat away from the eyes. £29.95, haloheadbanduk.com
7/10 Sealskinz All-Weather Cycle Gloves
Lightweight, waterproof, breathable and windproof, these gloves are designed for all weathers. The bright yellow design allows you to be clearly seen from distance while pressure-point padding keeps them comfy, and silicone contact point mapping increases grip. £35, sealskinz.com
8/10 Teko EVAPOR8 Ultralight socks
Ideal for cycling in bad light, these socks incorporate the latest in high-visibility reflective yarns. With a specially designed fabric that fits snugly around your feet, they effectively remove moisture to keep you cool. £13, amazon.co.uk
9/10 Fjellrapp Tee
Made from merino wool, this top can be used as a base layer or on its own. Designs for men and women provide sweat wicking in warmer weather and thermal insulation in the cold to help your body to maintain a consistent temperature, while its natural antibacterial properties keep it odour-free. £50, catalog.bergans.eu
10/10 Tenn Active Lycra Shorts
With an integrated single-layer seat insert and leg grippers, these shorts, available for both men and women, will give you a comfortable ride. The elastic waist will ensure a good fit, and moisture-wicking material will keep your legs cool during the most energetic rides. £10, halfords.com
“We had assumed that there is a linear straight line decline in physiology with ageing but that is very unlikely to be the case. We’re not saying we’re reversing ageing but that cycling seems to optimise the ageing process,” he said.
“Because most of the population is largely sedentary, the tendency is to assume that inactivity is the inevitable condition for humans. However, given that our genetic inheritance stems from a period when high levels of physical activity were the likely norm, being physically active should be considered to play an essential role in maintaining health and well-being throughout life,” he added.
The scientists chose extremely active and fit elder cyclists because of concerns that sedentary lifestyles are masking the normal ageing process, which makes it difficult to study the physical changes resulting directly from growing old, he explained.
A typical test for ageing, for instance, is to see how fast someone can get up from a chair, walk three metres, turn and walk back and sit down. Taking more than 15 seconds indicates ageing, but all the volunteers in the study, even the eldest, were able to complete the test in far less time.
“An essential part of our study was deciding which volunteers should be selected to explore the effects of ageing,” said Ross Pollock of King’s College, a member of the research team.
“The main problem facing health research is that in modern societies the majority of the population is inactive. A sedentary lifestyle causes physiological problems at any age,” he said.
“Hence the confusion as to how much the decline in bodily functions is due to the natural ageing process and how much is due to the combined effects of ageing and in activity,” he added.Reuse content