It’s common knowledge that as we age, we begin to lose muscle mass, gain weight in certain areas and even see our immune systems slow down. But does it have to be this way? Perhaps not, according to new research on the benefits of cycling into old age.
We already know that biking to work lowers mortality rates and exercise in general can help you live longer. Now, we also know that cycling into old age can help keep the immune system and muscles young. In fact, according to two new studies out of the United Kingdom, cycling into old age can help an 80-year-old have an immune system that resembles a 20- or 30-year-old. (1, 2)
Sound far-fetched? It’s not when you dive into the science of exactly what cycling into old age does for the body — and longevity.
The Studies: Effects of Cycling Into to Old Age
Back in 2015, research was published in the Journal of Physiology investigating the link between age and physiological function in older adults. Researchers conducted a cohort study of highly active people aged 55 to 79 who were regular cyclists.
What they found was there were “significant associations between age and function” and that the “data suggest that the relationship between human [aging] and physiological function is highly individualistic and modified by inactivity.” Compared to adults of the same age who had a more sedentary lifestyle, the active adults who continued cycling into old age had metabolic profiles comparable to younger adults, along with memories, balance and reflexes that more resembled adults closer to age 30. However, they could not make any concrete conclusions due to the many different variables at play. (3)
Enter the second round of research. In two further studies, several of the same scientific researchers altered their approach to examining the effects of cycling into old age on health, more specifically examining T cells and muscles, which play a key role in boosting the immune system.
In an updated study published in the Anatomical Society’s Aging Cell journal, researchers in London compared 125 adults aged 55 to 79 who had continued cycling into old age and had maintained a relatively high level of exercise through adulthood with “75 age‐matched older adults and 55 young adults not involved in regular exercise.”
What did they find? While the results did show that the folks who continued cycling into old age did not protect against all signs of aging in regard to the immune system, they did find the active cyclists produced the same levels of T cells as younger adults in their 20s and 30s. Thus, cycling into old age has shown success in keeping the immune system young. (4)
That’s not all. In an accompanying study, U.K. and Australian researchers took a look at muscle biopsy samples from 90 of the 125 highly active males and females ages 55–79 who continued cycling into old age. Here’s what they found:
“We conclude in this highly active cohort, selected to mitigate most of the effects of inactivity, that there is little evidence of age-related changes in the properties of VL muscle across the age range studied. By contrast, some of these muscle characteristics were correlated with in vivo physiological indices.” (5)
This means the people who continued cycling into old age were able to maintain muscle mass comparable to younger people, showing potential to combat sarcopenia.
Essentially, cycling can help keep muscles and the immune system young, which in turn allows older adults to remain active and feel younger. Put this together, and it makes cycling into old age yet another life-extending practice.
Other Benefits of Cycling Into Old Age
This is exciting news for people looking to maintain strong muscles and a healthy, young immune system as they age. It’s unsurprising given the many benefits of exercise — and cycling in particular.
Along with aiding in muscle and immune health, cycling has been shown to help:
- Lower stress and support mental health (6, 7)
- Build muscles, strengthen bones and burn fat (8)
- Aid injury recovery (9)
- Support joint health (10)
- Improve sleep
- Increase interest in sex
- Better endurance
- Improve mood
- Increase energy and stamina
- Reduce tiredness, which can increase mental alertness
- Lose weight
- Reduce cholesterol and improve cardiovascular fitness
In order to get these benefits, you can start cycling today and continue cycling into old age. In fact, as little as a one-minute workout doing high-intensity cycling could provide benefits. Perhaps consider getting a Peloton bike if you prefer indoor cycling or want the convenience of cycling while avoiding inclement weather.
- Recent research out of the U.K. found that cycling into old age can have dramatic effects on muscle tissue, immunity and longevity.
- Active cyclists aged 55-79 produced the same levels of T cells as younger adults in their 20s and 30s in one study.
- In another, those same people who continued cycling into old age were able to maintain muscle mass comparable to younger people.
- Thus, cycling can help keep muscles and the immune system young, which in turn allows older adults to remain active and feel younger.
- In addition, biking can help lower stress, support mental health, build muscles, strengthen bones, burn fat, aid injury recovery, support joint health, improve sleep, increase interest in sex, boost endurance, improve mood, increase energy and stamina, reduce tiredness, lower cholesterol, and improve cardiovascular health.
- The best news? You can continue cycling into old age due to its low-impact nature, which in turn will continue to keep you feeling younger — and potentially living longer.