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Two benefits of cycling that will surprise you.

In March 2018, BBC News published the results of a study following 125 long-distance cyclists, many of which were in their 80s by the time of publication. Norman Lazarus is 82 years old and, to put it bluntly, he’s cheating death. Or, at least the type of death that’s all too common in our sedentary society – death from inactivity. Professor Lazarus cycles a lot, and he has the immune system of a 20-year-old.

An older bicyclist on a road bike.

There is a reason why the UCI has a classification for older riders, staying active is especially important for older individuals.

The Findings

Lazarus is one of the elderly long-distance cyclists centered in the report which was featured on BBC Ten o'Clock News. The BBC’s medical correspondent Fergus Walsh rode with Lazarus and other Audax riders and pointed out the many anti-aging health benefits of cycling—the exercise was shown to have restorative powers for those who partake well into their older age."

The report follows the results of two studies published previously in Aging Cell. The study showed that loss of muscle mass and strength did not occur in those who exercise regularly. The cyclists also did not increase their body fat or cholesterol levels with age and the men’s testosterone levels also remained high, suggesting that they may have avoided most the male menopause. More surprisingly, the study also revealed that the benefits of exercise extend beyond muscle as the cyclists also had an immune system that did not seem to have aged either. An organ called the thymus, which makes immune cells called T cells, starts to shrink from the age of 20 and makes fewer T cells; however, in this study, it was shown that cyclists' thymuses were making just as many t-cells as a young person. These findings come at a time when figures show less than half of those over 65 do enough exercise to stay healthy...Professor Janet Lord stated, "Hippocrates said exercise is man's best medicine but his message has been lost over time".

"If exercise was a pill, everyone would be taking it," said Lazarus of King's College London He took part in new research which shows that exercising into old age has restorative powers. The research followed 125 long-distance cyclists, some now In their 80's, and found they had The immune systems and body fat levels of teenagers. Professor Janet Lord, director of the Institute of Inflammation And Ageing At the University of Birmingham co-authored the paper Aging Cell and found that cyclists did not lose muscle mass or strength nor see an increase in body fat. BBC Showed A scan of the professor's thigh and a similarly aged man who was sedentary, the long-distance cycling professor's muscle mass was clearly greater, even at an advanced age.

Lazarus changed his lifestyle after turning 50 and began to think about his mortality, fearing he would develop an age-related disease. To avoid getting these diseases, Norman started cycling rigorously and eating 1,800 calories a day. This new healthy lifestyle allowed him to boost his immune system and lower body fat. As a result of these changes, Lazarus has no age-related diseases and is medication free. He attributes his success in maintaining good health to three key factors: eating the right amount of healthy food, regularly working out, and enjoying what you're doing.' The three points about lifestyle, I call them the Trinity,' said Lazarus. The three points are, that you have to eat properly and the correct amount. You have to exercise. And putting yourself in the right mental space.

Final Thoughts

There are plenty of examples of cyclists who have continued riding themselves into great health in their later years - Robert Marchand didn't retire from competitive cycling until he was 106. Of course, it's not all about physical health - Prof Lazarus added that exercise also affects your mind and well-being. Pam Jones, 79, explained her motivations for continuing to cycle saying: "I do it for my health because it's sociable and because I enjoy the freedom it gives you." For Brian Matkins, 82, one of the first results he got from the medical study was that his body fat was comparable to that of a 19-year-old. Cycling can clearly lead to great physical fitness in later life as well as conferring other benefits like improved mental wellbeing. In all, there are many verifiable scientific benefits of cycling, namely an improved immune system and lowered body fat.

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