If you decide to start cycling during middle age, this doesn’t have to mean leisurely sojourns and cafe stops; this can be a beginning of a whole new phase of life. Just remember it’s never to late to start exercising.
Mamil, standing for a middle-aged man in lycra, is a horrible term that is too often used by those wanting to abuse cyclists in the press. It might be frequently heard beside other derogatory terms such as ‘Lycra lout’ but we know that there’s a huge growth in the number of people taking up cycling during middle age and after retirement. But this is not something to be jeered at because starting cycling at any age will benefit health and fitness and is no barrier to performance or competitive success.
While overall fitness could decline with age, this is not true for those who switch from being sedentary to active during or after middle age. Start exercising regularly later in life and, instead of holding back the tide of decline, you could be surfing the swell of increased cardiovascular fitness and strength—which is definitely a great improvement at least on your previous couch potato status.
A 2013 study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine examined the exercise habits of over 3,000 people in their 50s and 60s. Some of the participants took up exercise, some continued an exercise habit and others were sedentary. The study concluded that sustained physical activity in older age is linked to improved overall health.
Great health benefits were even seen among subjects who started exercising late in life. Even if you’ve done almost no exercise until reaching retirement age, you can still age healthily—just don’t think too long. If you are starting from scratch, then regardless of age, improvements come fast. This can be extremely motivating, but there’s a lot the ageing athlete can do to help get the results they want quicker.
As we age, our endurance tends to increase but our strength and speed decrease. While the temptation might be to accept this and decide for long and leisurely rides you’ll see more health and fitness improvements by increasing the intensity of some of your rides. Interval training will help to sustain your muscle mass and improve your fitness. If you are new to cycling it will also quickly increase your speed.
The ability is the biggest difference between an ageing athlete and a younger one. Research shows that recovery takes longer as you grow older so you need more time between training sessions; you also should do as much as you can to support your recovery with good nutrition and good sleep.
Getting enough sleep is crucial for recovery and a lack of sleep has been linked to ageing badly. Sleep is so extremely important to recovery that cycling teams are employing ‘sleep doctors’ to help give their cyclists the best chance of getting sufficient sleep.
As getting older, our body is less able to assimilate protein so we need to eat more of it to give the body a bigger pool of amino acids to work with. Some nutritionists go as far as saying we should double our protein intake—those under 35 typically need 20g of protein post-exercise so aim to consume about 40g.
Strength training is important especially for older riders for two purposes. Firstly, it helps maintain muscle mass, which is essential to keeping a high metabolic rate as well being a powerful athlete. Secondly, activities such as weightlifting are good for increasing bone density, a problem often linked to ageing.