There are all kinds of medical journals and reports that show that staying active as we age is important. More people are looking for ways to exercise as they age and cycling has become an alternative for some seniors. Riding a bike as we age comes with a long list of benefits that help seniors remain fit. Here are a few ways cycling can benefit older adults.
A new study carried out by Appalachian State University’s Human Performance Laboratory showed that cycling allows the body to exercise longer because it puts less stress on joints and causes less muscle soreness and inflammation than more impact-heavy forms of exercise such as running or jogging.
Roger Adams, 65 and a member of the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI) at University of Nebraska-Lincoln, has been riding as an adult for recreation for 40 years. While he says he is no expert, he sees the benefit in cycling.
“I think it is good because you aren't pounding the pavement like jogging or walking,” he said. “Aerobically, you can make it as strenuous or easy as you want. It lubricates your joints and strengthens muscles.”
Marie Hitz, 72, and also a member of OLLI, rode a bicycle as a child, returning to cycling six years ago.
“Biking is such a great form of exercise. You can work at riding as hard as you like or choose a more leisurely pace,” she said.
According to Talk Health Partnership, an online source for health information, cycling makes your whole body work, not just your legs. If you persist in regular rides, you can build strength and muscle very quickly.
Promotes good mental health and socialization
Cycling is a feel-good exercise and health professionals agree that cycling is a great way to battle symptoms of depression, anxiety and stress. Cycling helps one relax and even socialize -- when it comes to cycling in groups.
Damon Hershey, manager of Cycle Works, said that cycling is the best feel good activity.
“The benefits of riding a bike are ageless," he said. "But, for an older adult, cycling builds strength and stamina while also promoting good mental health.”
For many, cycling is a great way to enjoy the outdoors, exploring the neighborhood and socializing with friends, while improving cardiovascular fitness.
“For me, it is relaxing," Adams said. "I get fresh air and sunshine. I can pedal at my own pace. Since I am retired, I can go when I want, where I want, right from my front door."
Adams’ enjoyment of cycling led him to form a cycling interest group with OLLI at UNL called “Biking the Trails.” The group was formed to connect OLLI members with other like-minded individuals and organize rides on Lincoln’s bike trails. The group will meet for the first time this spring, meeting one day a week during the spring, summer and fall.
Jordan Messerer, assistant director of Campus Recreation and the Outdoor Adventure Center at UNL, said “Lincoln has a premier bike trail system that has over 130 miles of paved trails within the city limits. Cycling is a great social and healthy way to get out and explore the city.”
Messerer, a cycling enthusiast, also loves how the bicycle allows him to explore both his neighborhood and the community where he lives. “I have met so many individuals that live in my neighborhood just riding nearby streets and I also enjoy riding down the street for a coffee or beer at a local establishment,” he stated.
Group riding is about the recreational and social aspect of cycling. Hitz is familiar with this aspect of cycling. “I have made so many wonderful friends who share my passion for biking,” she said. “We bike to local events such as Jazz in June or simply do a destination ride to a local coffee shop or restaurant and back. We’ve also planned travel based on opportunities to bike.”
If you have not been on a bike for a long time, Messerer strongly encourages individuals to take a bike safety class.
“First, about 50 percent of accidents are simply individuals losing control of their bike,” said Messerer. “Second, getting tips on how to start, stop quickly and avoid obstacles can boost an individual’s confidence while on a bike.” He also mentioned that learning from others who ride a lot on how best to interact with street traffic and traffic laws can help ease some of the anxiety an individual may feel getting back into cycling.
Hitz suggests finding a biking buddy or getting involved in one of the many biking organizations in Lincoln.
“Everyone is happy to share his or her enthusiasm for the sport,” she said.
Adams recommends going to a bike shop and testing a few new, lightweight models.
“Get the style that fits you and feels most comfortable," he said. "Start easy and ride the trails, avoid traffic on the streets till you feel more comfortable with handling your bike."
And of course, follow the No. 1 rule of cycling: Wear a bike helmet.