Study shows less signs of age in regular cyclists

Could cycling slow the ageing process?

Scientists who analysed the physiological functions of 120 cyclists between the ages of 55 and 79 have made a brilliant discovery; cycling could be responsible for maintaining youth.

Having failed to observe the typical signs of ageing in the pool of cyclists, as would normally be evident in others in the same age bracket, Steve Harridge of King’s College London, the senior author of the study published in the Journal of Physiology said: "In general, we didn’t find the ageing we would expect to see in this age profile. We found some factors were correlated with ageing, but not strongly correlated, and some that were not correlated at all.

“We had assumed that there is a linear straight line decline in physiology with ageing, but that is very unlikely to be the case. We’re not saying we’re reversing ageing, but that cycling seems to optimise the ageing process.

"Because most of the population is largely sedentary, the tendency is to assume that inactivity is the inevitable condition for humans. However, given that our genetic inheritance stems from a period when high levels of physical activity were the likely norm, being physically active should be considered to play an essential role in maintaining health and well-being throughout life," Harridge concluded.

Concerned that inactive lifestyles are masking the ageing process, scientists chose only fit elderly cyclists, fearing that their data would otherwise be inconclusive when looking at which physical changes result directly from growing old.

Of those who volunteered, 84 were men and 41 women. Each person involved in testing had to be able to cycle 100km (men) and 60km (women) in less than five and a half hours. Laboratory tests were carried out over a two day period, with tests analysing their respiratory, cardiovascular, neuromuscular, metabolic, endocrine and cognitive functions, as well as bone strength analysis.

One of many ageing tests saw scientists ask the pool to get up from a chair, walk three metres, turn and return to their seat. Taking more than 15 seconds isn’t uncommon in the age range tested, though none of the volunteers in this pool, even the oldest, took longer.

Smokers, those with high blood pressure and heavy drinkers were excluded from the tests.

"The main problem facing health research is that in modern societies the majority of the population is inactive. A sedentary lifestyle causes physiological problems at any age. Hence the confusion as to how much the decline in bodily functions is due to the natural ageing process and how much is due to the combined effects of ageing and in activity," added Harridge.

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