gardless of age exercise is important and has some fantastic benefits, like keeping you fit and healthy and helping to extend life expectancy. Obviously we all want to stay fit and healthy and free from illness as there is nothing worse than lying on the couch helpless watching day time television feeling sorry for yourself with a bowl of chicken soup (though as a child this was the only way you ever got to watch classic television shows like Supermarket Sweep).
It is no secret that when we get older it is even more important to stay active to help fight off degenerative conditions and keep you mobile for longer. You will also not be as nimble as you were when you were twenty, and as such you need to focus your efforts on other activities and maybe move away from your Parkour youth to something more sensible and something with a slightly lower risk factor attached to it.
Bike Radar have put together a nice little post on 30 reasons to take up cycling which focusses on the overall benefits regardless of age and gender, from keeping you fit and healthy to improving brain power and the benefits for pregnant women. Worth a read.
Why just cycling?
Whilst this blog singles out cycling as a great form of exercise for the over 50’s it is not just limited to cycling as there are a whole host of activities available to keep you fit and active. Fauja Singh ran his last 10K at the age of 101, yes 101, which was an amazing feat and he did it in 1 hour 32 minutes which is also not a bad time (I ran my first 10K in my late twenties in 1 hour 10 minutes which by comparison makes me feel rather bad).
Swimming is another great activity as it is non-weight bearing which is great for your joints and even walking in water is good for you because of the resistance. You don’t have to jump in and swim 100 lengths but take it easy and build it up as every little helps.
Another popular activity is yoga, a great way of keeping fit and strengthening your joints and muscles. Whilst back pain is something we are all likely to experience it is also more prevalent in the older generations and yoga can work to strengthen your back muscles and reduce the risk of injury.
Ultimately all exercise is good for you in keeping you trim and in top condition, just select the right one for you and know your limits. Right…now onto the benefits of cycling.
It may sound obvious but yes fresh air is important and getting out and about. Gyms are a great place to go and work out but there is nothing better than fresh air in your lungs and away from the stale air you can sometimes get indoors and the polluted air you get in the city.
There is no better feeling than being outside and experiencing natural surroundings. Obviously a walk on Blackpool promenade is also very fresh and perfect for re-enacting a very famous scene from Mary Poppins. What we can agree on is that you know when you’ve experienced fresh air and you always feel the benefit of it.
Cycling can take you to some amazing places and allow you to experience your environment in a completely different way to being on foot or in the car. It also allows you to see more places in a single session because you’re going faster (obvious I know but still a good selling point).
Towns and cities may not be the most exciting places to cycle in the world but have you ever ridden down a canal tow path? The Wigan area is very industrialised and not quite as idyllic as the Cotswolds or the Yorkshire Dales (just being honest) but riding down the canal tow paths towards Wigan is a very pleasant experience and allows you to see so much more than you would ever see normally. The canal takes you past Pennington Flash and amongst the farmlands bordering the canal in what is a very peaceful and enjoyable ride.
As you approach Wigan the majority of the route is tarmac which means you can pick up a bit of speed whilst enjoying the surroundings. On arrival in Wigan you are greeted with Wigan Pier and the surrounding mills which is a fascinating site from the canal, knowing that it was used for the transportation of goods rather than for merely dog walking and keeping fit on your bike.
If you continue past Wigan you have a number of options available including taking the paths uphill towards Haigh Hall where you can ride through the woods and alongside a very nice golf course. You can spend an hour on your bike within the Wigan area and see everything from the peace and tranquillity of the parks and woodlands to the industrialised mills of yesteryear and this is just a very small area.
If you like exploring and want to see your local area from a different viewpoint then this is a great way of doing it as you don’t need to buy a bike rack for your car and drive off into the Lake District (though this would also be a nice weekend adventure) you simply have to jump on your local tow path and see where it takes you and you may be surprised at what you might find.
Research from the University of North Carolina showed that individuals who cycle for five times a week for a period of 30 minutes or more take half as many sick days as those who don’t exercise. Nobody likes to be ill as we want to remain active and 30 minutes a day is not a huge figure, we are not talking about preparing for the Tour de France. 30 minutes is something we can all achieve, we should make the time.
Admittedly, in the middle of winter when it’s cold and dark and wet it can be difficult to find the energy but what about a static bike you can use in the house? The cycling purists may not agree and you may not get the same benefits and resistance as the outdoors but it’s better to be cycling in your living room watching television than sitting on the couch watching television, surely?
Better health and fitness
Health and fitness covers not only exercise but also what you put into your bodies as well, so cycling to your local fast food chain is probably counterintuitive. At the same time the concept of only eating fruit and vegetables and never looking at a piece of chocolate cake or biscuit is a rather different existence altogether. It is all about moderation and eating the right kind of things but also being happy, so if you want a piece of cake then have one, just don’t eat the entire cake and don’t do it every night.
As well as looking after your insides you have to look after the outside and cycling is a great way of keeping fit and burning calories, improving stamina and increasing strength in the lower body.
Experts from Bristol University also noted that “Physical activity helps decrease the time it takes food to move through the large intestine, limiting the amount of water absorbed back into your body and leaving you with softer stools, which are easier to pass”, which is not a quote you would use when someone asks you why you started cycling in the first place but it’s always good to know.
Reducing your weight can improve your mobility, helping to reduce the impact on your joints when mobile. As we get older there is often a degradation of the joints and less weight being applied to them will make life easier when you’re out and about. Aside from mobility you can get aesthetical benefits from keeping fit, get rid of the extra pounds in the stomach region and start to tone up. You don’t have to have the goal of looking like one of the guys on the front of a men’s fitness magazine, but just the goal of not looking like someone who doesn’t do any exercise and enjoyed a good Christmas dinner or two.
Your heart is one of your most important organs and a healthy heart is something that the government has been trying to promote for years with reduced salt and alcohol intake amongst other things. Studies such as that from Purdue University have shown that cycling regularly can cut your risk of heart disease by up to 50 percent. The British Heart Foundation have also stated that around 10,000 fatal heart attacks could be avoided each year if people kept themselves ﬁtter which is a huge figure for just 30 minutes of cycling five times a week.
Exercise also has psychological benefits as whilst you may be tired after the initial ride you’ll feel great after a couple of hours. Fitness also improves your overall wellbeing and nothing feels better than getting to the top of stairs without stopping or pausing for breath and a healthy body promotes a healthy mind and vice versa.
Low impact / weight bearing
We’ve discussed the benefits of swimming as being non-weight bearing and cycling also has its benefits on protecting the joint from impact. If you do a lot of running on hard ground (road running) then it can have an impact on the joints over time as the forces from your entire body weight are being passed through your knee and ankle joints.
One condition faced by the over 50’s is osteoarthritis of the knee (OA) which results in the degradation of cartilage within the joint causing bone on bone contact which can be painful. It is this pain which comprises your mobility from getting out of a chair to walking around, let alone running a marathon. Sometimes OA just happens but your lifestyle, family history and previous knee ligament injuries can all play a part in increasing the risk of the onset of the condition.
There is no cure for OA but there are ways to help manage the condition as in many cases it can result in a partial or full knee replacement which is a major operation and can leave you off your feet for up to six months. Such replacements are also only designed to last 10-15 years so if you have a knee replacement at 50 then simple maths will tell you that you could need 2-3 more replacements, which is not a particularly inviting thought.
Treatments include lifestyle changes, healthy eating, physiotherapy, exercise, injections / medication and bracing. In considering exercise it releases endorphins into the blood stream which act as natural painkillers and therefore can help promote increased mobility. Exercise is normally recommended in the form of cycling or swimming as this impacts less on the joints compared to running.
Cycling itself can benefit both those affected by OA and those who are not as it places less stress on the joint and therefore there is less potential for cartilage degradation which is the source of the pain.
Another post which is an interesting read is from Bike Shop Hub where they somewhat disagree with claims made from Michael Yaremchuk, M.D., Chief of Craniofacial Surgery, Massachusetts General Hospital and his belief that the benefits just don’t outweigh the potential consequences for the over 50’s cyclist.
There are some who may agree that cycling does have inherent dangers, but these dangers exist regardless of your age so cannot simply be labelled as being bad for the over 50’s. Secondly, all sports have their risks, which is why you have to wear the appropriate equipment and be aware of your surroundings at all times as accidents typically happen when you lose concentration (not just in cycling but in any situation). The main risk in losing concentration when cycling is that it may be someone else whose mind wanders at the wrong time. Ultimately if you took the approach that everything was too dangerous then no one would ever go out and exercise for fear of injuring yourself. Another interesting read and there are some good points made by the readers of the blog in the comments section.
If you are looking to get out on your bike and start exploring then you don’t have to do it alone. British Cycling has a Club Finder so you can find other people in your local area and explore as a group. The NHS also has a handy cycling checklist to ensure you have everything you need before you cycle out the door.