RIDE YOUNG: Cycle yourself to a younger you

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.


Portrait of my grandfather : 80 and still cycling from Florent Piovesan | Of Two Lands on Vimeo.



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.


'Bike (=Heart) Beat' by LA-based illustrator/designer Emma J Hardy

‘Bike (=Heart) Beat’
by London based illustrator/designer Emma J Hardy



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… 😉




Janette Brewer 29/01/2016

I love to read things like this hoping more people will take to there bikes. My friend & I go on our bikes every morning .In all weather s . We are in our 60s and love every minute. I have e-mailed this on to others.Let’s hope they soon get on there bikes .

C Packer 29/01/2016

Clearly an article aimed at men.

Joe Angstrom 29/01/2016

Somehow I think thickening of the heart walls is not a positive thing, and intermittent, vigorous and relatively short exercise is superior, because it does not thicken the heart walls the same way as prolonged exercise does, but still leads to increased fitness. There was a BBC documentary with Dr Michael Mosley, which found short bursts of intense exercise are superior for health, without changing normal physiology in the way that prolonged exercise does.

    John Rowland 30/01/2016

    Sorry to be a de-bunker. That program covered some interesting points and whilst the science is OK its far from definitive.
    The sample was too small and biased towards relatively inactive persons. The improvement gains for a moderately fit person would be minimal. These techniques have been used by athletes for years but on top of normal training regimes to increase vo2 max and to increase explosive bursts of activity say towards to end of an endurance event.
    The thickening occurs to contain and control a much more efficient and voluminous heart. The benefits far out way an almost unmeasurable risk. The truth is staying fit requires an investment of energy, nutrition and time to be effective. These kind of “shortcuts” work for an initial period of time and then find a plateau very quickly. Great for media headlines and getting Mr and Mrs Joe of their burgeoning backsides but otherwise not worthy of the airtime.

Joe Soap 29/01/2016

I do 3 days per week intensity 10 k rides incorporating around 6k hill work. Will this lower my testosterone, and what is the effect on my sex life. I am 77 years old.

Clive Goodacre 29/01/2016

This is so true. After retiring to the western Algarve many years ago I decided to combine exploring this beautiful wild area with some serious mountain biking. The alternative was golf – no contest!

For 6 years me and a group of expats have ridden twice a week notching up more than 15k km. Our ages range from late 50s to 70. It is no exaggeration to say it has transformed our lives, physically, geographically, mentally and technically as well as discovering some great little Portuguese cafes! You can see our routes on Sportstracker.

Derek Biggerstaff 29/01/2016

I started racing thirty years ago. I’m now sixty and i haven’t begun to slow down yet. I recently started riding in the Scottish Cycling track league and it’s the best fun I’ve ever had on a bike. Just keep doing it and never allow yourself to use age as an excuse for anything.

Clive Goodacre 29/01/2016

I should of course put ‘socially’ at the front of the benefits list. James Witts should also add this to his list of health benefits. Good friends sharing the rush of a technical downhill, followed by chat and humour at the cafe stop are part of the deal.

Peter F 31/01/2016

Wholeheartedly (pun absolutely intended) with Clives remarks. The sociability combined with regular exercise and the rush of a full throttle series of descents with a decent pub or cafe stop as the end reward is hard to beat. I thought that my fitness days were over when I retired from 30 years of competitive field sports due to dodgy knees and hips but off road cycling which i now do for 90mins to 2hrs 2 or 3 times a week has revitalised me and resulted in loosing 25lbs. Just Get out and Ride!!

Sandra Fay 31/01/2016

I am a 56 year old woman and have been regularly cycling for a few years now mainly sportive rides and feel so much fitter and the social aspect is really good. Get out there!!!

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