A family wearing helmets while on a bike while on a bike trail at the park.

8 Ways Cycling Combats Aging

Cycling has many health benefits, including slowing the aging process. Although general physical activity will keep you feeling strong and healthy as you age, research shows cycling is particularly beneficial for anti-aging. Here’s why.

1. It reduces cellular deterioration.

A family biking together in a park.

Shortened telomeres cause cell death or aging. (Telomeres are protective caps at the ends of the DNA molecules that make up your chromosomes.) Research indicates vigorous exercise protects the length of telomeres, slowing aging. In fact, one recent study from 2017 even found individuals who exercised regularly saved up to 9 years of cellular deterioration, reducing the overall speed of their bodies’ aging process.1

2. It improves your immune system’s functioning.

A pad of paper with the words "immune system."

As you age, it’s also normal for your immune system to decline. Essentially, as you get older, your body produces fewer white blood cells, which inhibits its ability to fight off sickness and protect itself from disease. One specific 2018 study looked at the immune systems of inactive populations and compared them to those of active cyclists. The researchers found that, although cycling didn’t protect against every aspect of immune system decline, the cyclists had higher white blood cell levels than the inactive group of individuals. As a result, their immune systems acted like those of younger individuals.2

A family smiling in a staircase.

High-intensity interval training (HIIT) is a type of cycling that research has shown to be beneficial for anti-aging. One 2017 study found that HIIT cycling increased mitochondrial capacity. As these little organs inside your cells deteriorate, you’re more likely to experience age-related diseases.3

Researchers have also found that regular exercise can delay or prevent Alzheimer’s Disease and dementia. It can also be a form of therapy for these types of conditions. Essentially, regular exercise reduces your body’s levels of tau, which is a protein that’s linked to Alzheimer’s.

4. It reduces muscle deterioration.

A woman doing arm exercises at the gym.

Ever heard the phrase, “Use it or lose it”? This applies to your muscles as you age. The older you get, the more your muscles deteriorate. Unfortunately, although age-related muscle deterioration is a normal part of the aging process, regular exercise cycling can help slow it down.

One 2018 study found that highly active male and female cyclists ages 55 to 79 had less age-related muscle deterioration than sedentary populations of the same age. Regular cycling allowed them to sustain their muscle mass and strength longer.5

5. It improves aerobic capacity.

A group of women in a cycling class.

Aerobic capacity, also known as VO2 max, measures your maximum oxygen consumption during exercise. It tells you how well your body can perform under continuous, strenuous physical activity. (If you want to learn more about it, you can read this article we wrote on VO2 max for cyclists.)

Research indicates that regular cycling boosts the aerobic capacity of older individuals, making it so they perform at a similar level as younger cyclists. Basically, their bodies function more like younger individuals when they’re exercising!6 So, if you want to maintain your physical endurance as you age, cycling is a great way to do it.

6. It boosts mental health.

A sheet with words spelled out "Mental Health".

Just as it’s crucial to protect and maintain your physical health over the years, your mental health is just as important!

Regular cycling improves the mental health of aging individuals in many different ways. First and foremost, cycling is a very social activity, so it helps reduce isolation, especially among those who may not have family or friends nearby. Cycling with a group is an excellent way to be social and make like-minded friends.

Research also indicates regular cycling can improve a person’s memory and enhance attention, planning, and organization, all controlled by the brain’s processing center.4 In particular, this is beneficial for older individuals who might otherwise experience a decline in these functions as they age.

7. It strengthens muscles without traumatizing joints.

A trainer working with her client doing stretches on a yoga mat.

As we age, it may be necessary to adapt to our physical needs and transition to different forms of exercises that are easier on the joints. This is especially true if you have arthritis, osteoporosis, or other related conditions. While running or even walking long distances may be hard on the spine, hips, knees, and ankles, cycling is an enjoyable and physical activity for anyone who needs low-impact exercise.

In most instances, cycling can help strengthen your muscles without putting additional stress on your joints. However, it may be hard on the knees for some people. If you’re an older individual or concerned about the impact of cycling on your knees, it’s best to talk with your doctor before committing to a regular cycling routine.

8. It improves balance.

A group of people balancing on a water post next to the ocean.

Due to balance and mobility issues, older individuals are often more prone to falls and injuries. Seniors may also have an increased risk of falling due to health conditions like heart disease, vision loss, or other illnesses or medications that may affect their balance.

Although anyone can injure themselves in a fall, seniors may also be more likely to have severe injuries because their bones are more likely to fracture and break, especially if they have osteoporosis.

Regular cycling can help improve posture, balance, and coordination, decreasing the risk of falls and related injuries. It also helps keep muscles and bones strong, which enhances overall movement and flexibility among aging individuals.

Key Takeaways:

A regular cycling routine has many health benefits for people of all ages. It may even help reduce or slow the onset of typical age-related conditions like dementia, osteoporosis, a deteriorating immune system, and loss of muscle mass.

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  1. Tucker, L. A. (2017, July). Physical activity and telomere length in U.S. men and women: An NHANES investigation. Preventive Medicine, 100, 145–151. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ypmed.2017.04.027 
  2. Duggal, N. A., Pollock, R. D., Lazarus, N. R., Harridge, S., & Lord, J. M. (2018, March 8). Major features of immunesenescence, including reduced thymic output, are ameliorated by high levels of physical activity in adulthood. Aging Cell, 17(2), e12750. https://doi.org/10.1111/acel.12750 
  3. Robinson, M. M., Dasari, S., Konopka, A. R., Johnson, M. L., Manjunatha, S., Esponda, R. R., Carter, R. E., Lanza, I. R., & Nair, K. S. (2017, March). Enhanced Protein Translation Underlies Improved Metabolic and Physical Adaptations to Different Exercise Training Modes in Young and Old Humans. Cell Metabolism, 25(3), 581–592. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cmet.2017.02.009 
  4. Meng, Q., Lin, M. S., & Tzeng, I. S. (2020, March 26). Relationship Between Exercise and Alzheimer’s Disease: A Narrative Literature Review. Frontiers in Neuroscience, 14. https://doi.org/10.3389/fnins.2020.00131 
  5. Pollock, R. D., O’Brien, K. A., Daniels, L. J., Nielsen, K. B., Rowlerson, A., Duggal, N. A., Lazarus, N. R., Lord, J. M., Philp, A., & Harridge, S. D. R. (2018, March 8). Properties of the vastus lateralis muscle in relation to age and physiological function in master cyclists aged 55-79 years. Aging Cell, 17(2), e12735. https://doi.org/10.1111/acel.12735 
  6. Pollock, R. D., Carter, S., Velloso, C. P., Duggal, N. A., Lord, J. M., Lazarus, N. R., & Harridge, S. D. R. (2015, January 6). An investigation into the relationship between age and physiological function in highly active older adults. The Journal of Physiology, 593(3), 657–680. https://doi.org/10.1113/jphysiol.2014.282863   

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