Cycling for seniors is a controversial issue; experts can’t seem to agree whether it helps or hurts. Not long ago, a doctor, Michael Yaremchuk, wrote a column in which he claimed that riding bikes for seniors wasn’t a recommended activity to stay fit because they are likely to end up injured. Is this true?
Not quite; it is a perfect case of a logical fallacy. To assume that when seniors ride bikes they will get hurt is wrong. The likely reason they may end up with injuries is inexperience, not paying attention as they ride or wrong riding techniques.
The truth is, bikes are perfectly safe for seniors and there are many examples to prove this.
A recent survey in the United States shows that seniors make up nearly 30% of new riders in recent years.
31% of all registrations for biking events were by seniors aged over 55.
In the Netherlands, 17% of people over 65 cycle every day.
There are many more statistics that go to show that senior bike riding is not only safe but healthy.
This article looks at the top 10 benefits of senior cycling and how to stay safe while you cycle.
Without further ado, here are the benefits of riding for people aged 55+.
Benefits of Cycling for Seniors
1. It is a low impact, low-stress exercise
When you cycle, your body moves in smooth motions that don’t put any undue stress on your body. Some commonly recommended exercises for seniors, like jogging, for example, are high impact and over time they damage different parts of the body. As you jog you put a lot of strain on your knees and your ankles as well as your feet. When you cycle, the circular movements that propel you forward don’t strain the body in any way. Translation? You can cycle for years to come without harming your body.
2. Senior Bike Riding and Weight Loss
Weight gain is a big problem among seniors; they are no longer as active as they used to be, and they go on to gain weight which can lead to health problems like diabetes and heart disease.
Cycling is one good way to stay active and keep the weight off. Each time you get on a bicycle and cycle you burn calories. As you get more familiar with cycling and are able to cover longer distances you lose even more weight.
Combining cycling with another low impact exercise like swimming is a perfect way to stay in shape for anyone in their senior years.
3. Cycling is great for your heart
Stroke, heart disease, and heart attacks are the most common cause of death for seniors. Cycling is a great way to keep these chronic ailments at bay. Riding a bicycle is a great way to increase your heart’s capacity. Your body needs more oxygen to keep you going, forcing your heart to pump harder in order to keep cells properly oxygenated so that they can release the energy needed to help you keep going. As you become a better cyclist your heart becomes even stronger and reduces the odds that you will suffer a heart-related ailment.
4. Senior cycling is also great for memory
Bikes for seniors are great for those worried about memory loss, or more chronic conditions like Alzheimer’s and dementia. When you cycle, your body works at maximum capacity, ensuring that the brain is fully oxygenated which stimulates the part of your brain that’s responsible for memory, the hippocampus.
Cycling is recommended for people who want to stave off memory-related illnesses as well as those in the early stages. It is also a healthy exercise for those recovering from stroke or heart attack.
5. Good way to reduce the risk of cancer
One of the leading causes of cancer is obesity. According to a recent survey by the World Health Organization, obesity has now overtaken smoking as a leading cause of common cancers.
When you cycle you lose weight, which means that your risk of developing cancer is reduced.
6. Riding is a great way to exercise with fellow seniors
Research has proved that seniors who have an active social life are healthier, happier and they live longer. Cycling is a great way to get together with your friends a few times a week and have some fun. It can be as simple as riding your cycles for a beer at the bar, enjoying the landscape or you can all come together and practice for an upcoming cycling event.
7. Cycling is good for your sex life
As we age we become less sexually active, not because we want to but because our bodies no longer produce the hormones that are required to keep us going sexually.
Bicycles for seniors can go a long way in helping you stay sexually active. According to experts, elderly men who cycle have about 25% more sex than those who don’t, and women are able to delay menopause by up to 5 years.
8. Senior bicycling is great for body strength
A common problem that seniors face is loss of muscle tone which leads to loss of muscular strength. Muscular health is directly influenced by mitochondrial health which is directly influenced by regular exercise such as cycling. The more you cycle, the healthier your mitochondria, the healthier your cells, and the stronger your muscles.
If you want to remain strong in your elder years you should invest in a bicycle for elderly people.
9. Cycling will help you live longer
This again goes back to mitochondria. Death occurs when there is so much mitochondrial damage in the cells that they can no longer sustain life. It can happen as a result of disease or because of old age. The different cellular components in the mitochondria cease to function as they get older and the production of new ones ceases.
Cycling helps keep mitochondria healthy for longer which translates to a longer lifespan.
10. Cycling is fun
Are you bored since your retirement? Do you feel like you don’t have nearly enough to do, and that you don’t meet enough people? You can change that by buying a bike and using it frequently.
Boredom is a common complaint among seniors. They often feel like the world is moving along without them. There is no better way to get out there and be part of the action than on a bike. You will get to drink in the surrounding environment, meet new people and get an excellent workout every time you do it.
Bikes for Seniors: Do Health Benefits Outweigh Potential Risks?
Falls are a leading cause of health problems among seniors, hence the article written for the Huffington Post by Dr. Yaremchuk.
According to this article, there is an increasing number of elderly showing up at his practice for maxillofacial surgery for injuries received while out riding bicycles.
How much should you worry?
Think of this analogy: fruits are very healthy for the young and old alike. If more people start to show up at an ER as a result of choking on fruit, does that mean that fruit is a problem? Not really; the problem lies elsewhere. It could be with the way people are eating the fruit, where they are sourcing it from, how they are preparing it and so on.
The same logic applies to bikes for seniors. The danger is not the bike itself. Millions of seniors around the world cycle every day without falling and injuring themselves.
What is important is that you learn how to stay safe. Safe bicycle riding for elderly people is possible.
Tips for Safe Senior Cycling
- Take your time to make sure that you are ready for the road
This is probably the most important senior cycling safety tip that there is out there. You may invest in a great bike and top quality safety equipment, but if you don’t take the time to prepare for your cycling time there are higher odds of an accident.
Make sure that your bike is ready and the brakes are working properly. Check your chain and your gears too.
- Check your route before you head out
You may want to look at how much traffic there is on your planned route. If there are too many cars it may be wise to choose a quieter route, even if it’s a bit longer.
- Keep in mind that your reflexes are slower now that you are older
You were once an expert cyclist who could avoid obstacles that suddenly appeared in front of you. Not anymore. While your mind and body may both be quite agile, they aren’t as fresh as they used to be, and your reaction times have slowed down somewhat.
You should ride at a speed that allows you to swerve and avoid obstacles in time.
- Make sure you have the proper equipment
The most important piece of equipment for cycling is your helmet. Never try to ride without it. Knee and elbow pads are also important to reduce body damage in case of a fall. If you cycle in poor weather or after dark your bike should have reflective strips and you should have a reflective jacket.
- Don’t try to keep up if you can’t
When riding with a younger crowd you may be tempted to go faster than you should to keep up with them. It may be good for your ego but bad for your health. The faster you ride, especially along busy roads, the higher the chances of an accident. Go at a pace that you’re comfortable with.
- Have a practice run on your bike before you take it out for the first time
Certain bicycles for seniors, such as electric bikes, are recommended, but that doesn’t mean that they are the best fit.
When you buy a new bike take some time and get a few practice runs in before you take it out on busy roads. The better you know your bike, the easier it is to control.
- Choose your course wisely
You’ve been riding your new bike around town, and now you feel confident enough to take it out for a weekend trail hike.
A ride around town and one in the trails near your home may be completely different. The trail may have very steep gradients or may be so rough that falling is easy.
While trail cycling is fun, you should know the terrain before you go in. If it’s not suited to elderly riding it isn’t worth it.
- Never cycle with earphones on
This is all the vogue these days and it has led to accidents that were entirely avoidable if only the cyclist were more aware of their surroundings.
Catching up on the news or listening to a podcast while riding your bike isn’t wise whether one is young or old. You cannot hear the traffic and other signals around you, and you will be distracted to some degree by what you are listening to.
- Learn the proper hand signals for cyclists
These can save your life, so make sure you know them by heart. Also, before you turn into any road make sure that you stop, look left, look right and look left again to ensure there is no oncoming traffic.
- If you have to stop get far off the road
If you need to stop you should make sure you get off the road completely where oncoming traffic can’t reach you (distracted drivers have been known to run over cyclists who stop too close to the road).
- If you can, ride with another person
Remember we said that one of the benefits of riding for seniors is that they get to socialize? If you can, try to ride with someone else. Not only is it more fun, but you are also safer on the road. Cycling with grandchildren can be more adventurous.
Senior bike riding is perfectly safe and has many health benefits. It will help you lose weight, stay strong, avoid chronic illness, stay mentally alert and live longer.
There are some safety concerns regarding cycling for seniors, but they shouldn’t dissuade you. So long as you take the proper precautions every time you go out on your bike you will be safe.
Related article: Best entry level women’s road bike