How Cycling Beats the Signs of Ageing

How Cycling Beats the Signs of Ageing

Ageing is something that happens to everybody — we cant stop it or battle, but getting older doesn’t mean that we have to stop riding. In fact, cycling may help deal with the tell-tale signs of ageing.

It seems that delaying the signs of ageing is the goal of every face cream and wonder food; it’s definitely a phrase beloved by marketing executives. Of course, ageing is inevitable and in many ways we should be glad we’re ageing — it means we’re still alive! Nevertheless, some consequences of ageing can be slowed down. Lifestyle, training and diet changes can help us stay fit and fast for longer.

older man running
Maintaining aerobic fitness through middle age may delay biological ageing by 12 years.

When you see a super-fit cyclist out on the club run who’s in their sixties, seventies or even eighties, it’s highly possible they are a lifelong cyclist. One of the crucial things with staying fit through middle age and into old age is maintaining a consistent level of exercise.

A study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine in March 2008, showed that maintaining aerobic fitness through middle age may delay biological ageing by 12 years. It also found a direct correlation between regular training and longer life expectancy. The study concluded that a regular training program could slow or reverse the loss of aerobic fitness, lowering the persons biological age.

omega 3 rich food


Including omega-3 rich foods in your food plan can slow down the ageing process too. Indeed, research from the Journal of the American Medical Association studied omega-3 fatty acid blood levels in 608 individuals over a period of 5 years, comparing this with changes in telomere length, which is another sign of biological age. Over the study period, those with the highest omega-3 fatty acid levels showed considerably less telomere shortening, meaning that the cells were ageing at a slower rate, than those with a low level of omega-3 fatty acids.

With healthy fats also thought to enhance our ability to mobilize stubborn fatty deposits and some fats such as conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) helping with muscle retention too, steering clear of saturates and hunting out omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids (focused on the former) appears to help with health and a favourable body composition.

cycling race
Regular cycling helps slow down the ageing process.

Learn how riding a bike helps fight the signs of ageing


One of the first things people associate with ageing is gaining weight. After we hit puberty, the ageing process is usually associated with a decline in metabolic rate and consequently a reduction in the calories we need to maintain weight. As active cyclists, we can offset this decline by training regularly to maintain our youthful muscle and body fat percentages. The higher your muscle mass, and the lower your body fat, the stronger your basal metabolic rate and subsequently the more calories you need to maintain your weight.

One of the primary reasons that older people have increased fat stores is that they do less, move less, train less. It’s not necessarily ageing, or consuming more calories, but a sedentary lifestyle that prompts change. Keeping a high volume of training in your life as you age will help prevent this. Of course, when it comes to body fat, what we consume is important too, with healthy eating habits generally being reflected by superior body composition.

Aerobic training increases blood flow to the brain and improves short-term and long-term memory.

Having a bit of a “senior moment” happens to everyone, even those far away from retirement age, as occurrences of forgetfulness or confusion are quite normal. Nevertheless, the condition of our brain as we age and age-related illnesses such as dementia can be improved by regular exercise. Physical activity seems to be more effective than mental exercise, and mental decline isn’t inevitable, suggests some of the recent research.

A study from the University of Edinburgh published in the journal Neurology in 2012 confirmed that people who stayed physically active and trained in older age had larger brains than those who didn’t. A more recent study published in the online journal Frontiers in Ageing Neurology, compared the blood flow to the brain, immediate and delayed memory response of participants (aged 57-75) who either did no exercise or undertook three sessions of one-hour aerobic training a week for 12 weeks. The participants who did the aerobic training showed increased blood flow to the brain and improved their short-term and long-term memory.

sport food training
Healthy diet and regular exercise significantly benefit your cardiovascular system.

Regular cycling can help prevent the changes in aerobic fitness usually associated with ageing. If we don’t work out regularly, when we grow older our maximal oxygen uptake (VO2 max) decreases about 5-15% per decade, beginning at 25-30 years of age. Maximal heart rate goes down about 6-10 beats per minute per decade.

This isn’t simply ageing but a decline in the physical activity required to maintain fitness levels. If you keep exercising, you can slow this decline, and studies have proven a fitness decline of just 2% in participants who maintained an exercising program. A well-trained 65-year-old can easily be in better physical shape and health than a sedentary person one third of that age.

Even if you start training later in life, older adults can achieve the same 10-30% increase in VO2 max as a result of endurance exercise training as younger adults can.

middle aged man lifting weights
Weight lifting helps maintain muscle mass and benefits bone health.

Some of the chronic afflictions that are widespread among the older people, including osteoporosis and arthritis, result from a loss of muscle mass and reduced muscle function, resulting in decreased strength and less power. Maintaining muscle mass by sprint training and weight lifting can help reduce or slow this down.

The American College of Sports Medicine in their current comment on exercise in older age states that a gradual loss in muscle cross-sectional area is constantly found with advancing age; by age 50, about 10% of muscle area is gone. Beyond 50 years of age, the rate accelerates considerably. Muscle strength decreases by about 15% per decade in the sixties and seventies and by about 30% thereafter.

Nevertheless, continuing with regular training, and very importantly, doing the right type of exercise, can slow down your slowing down.

As we age we may expect to slow down, in every area of life but particularly in sport. Nobody expects to be as fast at 60 as they were at 20, or even at 40. Nevertheless, an emphasis on shorter, faster, interval-type training and resistance exercise can mean that you don’t slow down by quite as much. Strength exercise can increase the cross-sectional muscle fibre area in older cyclists at a comparable rate to much younger riders. A number of studies have proven that you are able increase your muscle cross-sectional area with a program of strength training even into your seventies.

Fulfilling your protein needs is also vital to reducing muscle loss, and experts recognize that as our calorie requirement decreases with age the percentage of calories needed from protein increases.

As we grow older we become less able to absorb protein so the amount we require, particularly post-training to support recovery, increases. The protein requirements of riders are greater than those of sedentary individuals anyway — older athletes should be aiming at between 1.2-1.5g per kilogram body weight. Splitting this requirement across your regular meals will provide a constant flow of amino acids to assist muscle retention.

happy older man
Stay active and eat well to make sure you’ll be happy at older age.

Most risk factors related to disease increase with age. Nevertheless, most of these risks can be decreased with regular training so the advantages of regular exercise are significant from a health perspective. Risk of cardiovascular disease can be lowered through regular training because of its advantageous effects on cholesterol levels and reduction in resting blood pressure. Maintaining favourable body composition, reducing the amount of visceral fat (fat stored around the organs) in particular is vital, especially in men.

Along with lowering heart disease risk, regular training leads to an increase in insulin sensitivity in older adults. As insulin resistance increases with age, the benefits of regular aerobic exercise in older people, on improving insulin sensitivity and increasing glucose transporters, is vital in the prevention of adult-onset diabetes.

Last but not least, since decreased bone density is more common among older adults, evidence proves that regular weight bearing exercise improves bone health and decreased the risk of developing osteoporosis, which can lower the incidence of breaks and fractures associated with falls.


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Written by Stephan Blake

Stephan Blake is a cycling enthusiast and rides hundreds of miles every season. On rainy and cold days, he does weight training and high-intensity training to support his cycling performance.


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