Cycling improves muscle tone, strengthens your heart – and keeps you young. We show you how…
by James Witts
(Header image credit: Still from ‘Portrait of my Grandfather: 80 and still cycling’ by Florent Piovesan)
Every time I see an adult on a bicycle, I no longer despair for the future of the human race.
So said 19th-century author HG Wells. And you can see why, as science shows that cycling offers you the path to eternal youth. A team at King’s College London recently assessed the fitness of 122 cyclists aged 55 to 79, and discovered that many were physically and biologically younger than most people of the same age.
The 81 men and 41 women underwent extensive tests of their heart, lung, neuromuscular, metabolic and hormonal functions, as well as their reflexes, muscle and bones strength, and oxygen uptake. The team, led by Professor Norman Lazarus, also examined their mental ability.
One simple assessment of falling recorded the time taken to stand from a chair, walk 3m, turn, walk back and sit down again. An effort of more than 15secs indicates a high risk of falling but even the 79-year-old subjects registered times that matched younger adults.
HEART OF THE MATTER
So how does cycling physically make you younger? Well, it all starts with your heart. The average size of a sedentary adult’s heart is 300g. This compares to around 500g with a keen cyclist. This increase in your beating heart comes down a thickening of the walls and an increase in chamber size – and it’s the latter that can knock years off your life.
You see, your heart pumps at around 70% efficiency rate. A 300g heart can hold around 150ml of blood, equating to 105ml of blood with every beat. The fit cyclist’s 500g heart, however, accommodates around 250ml of blood and so pumps 175ml of blood with every beat.
This has repercussions when it comes to cardiac output, which is the amount of blood pumped out each minute. For Sedentary Sid, if their heart’s beating at 130bpm, that’s 13,650ml or 13.65l of blood being delivered to working muscles every minute. For Cyclist Claire, cycling at the same bpm of 130, we’re looking at 22,750ml of 22.75l of blood being pumped every minute.
And as blood carries the oxygen and nutrients that serve your working muscles, you can see how a bigger, stronger heart can lead to not only improved cycling performance but will also strain the heart less than the inactive heart. The result? Your cells have to work less for the same output, meaning you tire them less and maintain a younger you.
Cycling also keeps you young by giving you a testosterone hit. Though too intense and too high a volume cycling is associated with low testosterone, regular recreational cycling results in raised testosterone levels.
‘Testosterone preserves and increases lean muscle mass; improves cognitive function; increases bone density so preventing conditions like osteoporosis and improves your ability to recovery from a workout,’ says Dr Will Mangar, head of blood-profiling outfit InDurance. ‘Those are the well-known benefits anyway.
But testosterone’s also responsible for driving the whole process of creating red blood cells, which is clearly ideal in a sport where your muscles are demanding oxygen.
And as your testosterone levels drop as you age, clearly regular pedalling will have you looking younger and feeling fitter.
Now stop reading this and cycle yourself into youth… 😉