Yes, You Can Cycle Until You’re (at Least) 104

Peter Glassford
by Peter Glassford
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Yes, You Can Cycle Until You’re (at Least) 104

As technology and fitness education improves, it seems that athletes are increasingly performing well into their later years. Take the story of the 104-year-old French cyclist, who has been named the greatest centenarian athlete. Cycling helps establish healthy habits, build great fitness, maintain a healthy weight, foster social interactions and get you outside — all of which are central to longevity.

Minimizes Risk of Chronic Disease

Cycling requires built-in discipline to maintain a healthy body weight, follow proper nutrition and build the cardiovascular fitness that fights chronic disease. The most obvious point is that you can’t be out all night and make a group ride the next morning. Then, there’s also the desire to climb hills faster. Cyclists use power-to-weight ratio, a measure that relates the size of the engine to the weight of the chassis, to assess climbing ability. The lighter and stronger you are, the better (and faster) a climber you’ll be.

When you’re sprinting against your friend or climbing a big hill, your heavy breathing and that feeling of your heart pounding in your chest are signs your cardiovascular system is hard at work. Cycling requires, and consequently builds, a strong cardiovascular system. Better yet, since you’re going to avoid smoking to optimize your cardiovascular health, you also hugely decrease your risk for many of the top causes of death.

There have been claims that endurance exercise hurts the heart or that fast running is as bad as sitting on the couch. But consider that many of these cases are due to very extreme exercise and that some people will be genetically predisposed to heart conditions whether or not they bike. However, there are still findings that even extreme endurance athletes, like Tour de France riders, enjoy enhanced longevity.

Easy on the Joints

Cycling is not a weight-bearing sport. It puts your body through much less impact than sports like running, which is why it’s often used to help rehabilitate joints, especially the knees. While cyclists need to ensure they are doing adequate weight-bearing activities like walking and strength training, it also means we can enjoy cycling at a higher level as we age, and we can continue cycling later into life.

An Added Social Component

Long-living people — the ones you see on the news or read about in books like “The Blue Zones” — generally have strong social ties and a sense of purpose.  While riding alone in the basement will take care of a narrow type of fitness, it misses the community driven and psychological benefits of riding outdoors with a friend or a group where there is some competition and camaraderie. These psycho-social elements that cycling supports are important and often overlooked components of health and longevity.

Practices such as being outside, spending time with loved ones, working at easy intensities for extended periods with short bursts of speed and eating healthfully are all part of the cycling culture. Cycling is a fantastic sport to do throughout your life because cyclists are able to maintain high levels of fitness while enjoying important social, environmental and psychological benefits that often equate to a long, happy life.

About the Author

Peter Glassford
Peter Glassford

Peter is a cycling coach and registered kinesiologist from Ontario, Canada. He travels frequently to work with athletes at races, camps and clinics. He also races mountain bikes for Trek Canada and pursues adventure in all types of movement. Follow @peterglassford on Twitter, or check out his online and in-person coaching at www.smartathlete.ca.

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