Benefits of Cycling
Baby Boomers are still setting trends, this time on the road. Older adults are taking up bicycling at a rate that outpaces any other group (especially kids, whose ridership dropped 20% between 2000 and 2010). According to advocacy group People for Bikes, more than a third of the increase in US bike ridership over the past 20 years is due to riders over age 60.
Why the big shift? Environmental friendliness, social time and fitness are the big draws, and experts say the fitness benefits of biking are especially clear for Boomers.
Cycling can be a great way to jumpstart a fitness routine if you’ve been sedentary for a while, because it puts less pressure on hips and knees than walking or jogging. If you’re already active, cycling can add variety to your workout regimen. In particular, cycling can help with:
In general, cycling burns more calories than walking for the same amount of time. For example, a half-hour stroll burns 102 calories for a 150-pound person, but biking for 30 minutes burns 136. The harder you work out, the bigger the calorie-burning difference is. Thirty minute of super-fast walking at 4.5 MPH eats up 214 calories for our hypothetical exerciser, but 30 minutes of cycling at 16 to 20 MPH burns through 408, nearly twice as many calories. (You can get your own estimate here.)
Better heart health
All that pedaling will get your heart pumping, and because you control your pace, you can tailor rides to your own fitness level. And what better way to take a break than coasting?
Improved balance and coordination
Balance is a key element in preventing falls, and bicycling helps with balance. Riding a bike is so automatic that we forget how much “background” work goes into keeping us upright, pedaling, and maneuvering through turns and grade changes.
Sharper mind, brighter mood
The benefits of biking aren’t purely physical, according to Bicycling magazine. Regular rides can help sharpen memory, take the edge off anxiety and depression, and sharpen problem-solving skills.
The benefits of biking don’t end at the upper end of the Boomer age range, either. A recent study in Norway found that, for men over 73, half an hour of daily cycling had the same positive impact on health as quitting smoking. Bikers in the 12-year study had a 40% lower rate of death than inactive men of the same age.
Biking gear basics
Before you hit the road, you’ll need a few key pieces of equipment for comfort and safety:
- A helmet that fits snugly.
- A bike the right size for your body. If you have joint problems, consider a recumbent model.
- A handlebar-mounted mirror and a bell or horn.
- Reflective or fluorescent clothing.
Safe biking strategies
Dedicated bike trails are ideal, but calm streets work, too. Ride with the flow of traffic and leave sidewalks clear for pedestrians and people using mobility aids. Use hand signals when you’re ready to turn or stop, and stick to streets with speed limits lower than 40 MPH and light traffic.
Biking delivers so many benefits to older riders that it’s worth a try even if it’s been years since your list ride. And if you want to extend to benefits of biking even further, consider inviting a grandchild or other young person along. They need you as a “roll model.”
May is National Bike Month! Get out there and ride!