Here’s More Proof That Cycling Can Keep You Young

Selene Yeager
·3 mins read
Photo credit: adamkaz - Getty Images
Photo credit: adamkaz - Getty Images

From Bicycling

  • Adults over the age of 65 who ride at least 30 minutes, three times a week are less likely to experience age-related decline in walking efficiency, compared to adults who walk for exercise, according to Humboldt State University researchers.

  • Decline in walking ability has been linked to poorer health in older adults.

  • Older adults who cycle for exercise had walking efficiency similar to adults in their twenties, according to the study published in the Journal of Aging and Physical Activity

It’s well known that cycling provides you with tons of health benefits. Your time in the saddle can also make you fitter (and younger!) on your feet, according to new research.

A study published in the Journal of Aging and Physical Activity finds older cyclists maintain a walking efficiency similar to adults who are decades younger. Good walking efficiency means you don’t expend a ton of energy to walk at a given pace, which allows you to move more briskly and not tire as easily. It has been linked to vitality and longevity.

For the study, the researchers recruited 33 adults over 65 who either walked or biked for exercise. The volunteers walked at speeds ranging from 1.7 mph to 3.9 mph on a treadmill while they measured their oxygen consumption and carbon dioxide production to measure how much energy they were expending while walking.

They discovered that the participants who rode at least 30 minutes, three times a week were less likely to experience age-related physical decline in walking efficiency than those who simply walked the same amount for exercise. The study also found that the older cyclists were nine to 17 percent more efficient at walking than those who didn’t ride a bicycle.

“What we found is that older adults who regularly participate in high aerobic activities—bicycling in particular—have what we call a lower metabolic cost of walking than older adults who walk for exercise,” researcher Justus Ortega, Ph.D., kinesiology professor at Humboldt State University said in a press release.

“In fact, their metabolic cost of walking is similar to young adults in their 20s,” Ortega said in the release.

Metabolic cost is the amount of energy we need to move. With age, it naturally increases. A high metabolic cost can make walking more difficult and tiring, which is why people sometimes slow down with age. A decline in walking ability has been linked to poor health in older adults, and research also shows that brisk walkers live longer.

It’s not clear exactly how cycling makes you a more efficient walker, but the researchers believe the answer may lie in your mitochondria—the energy producers in your cells. People who exercise vigorously have healthier mitochondria in their muscles, so therefore can generate energy more easily.

“The bottom line is that cycling keeps you younger, at least in terms of efficiency,” study co-author Daniel Aslan, a doctoral student at the University of Illinois Champaign, said in the release.

Earlier research found similar results among older adults who were runners. The team is planning future studies to examine whether other highly aerobic activities—such as swimming—may also mitigate age-related physical decline.

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