At least once a week, after donning my stylish spandex shorts and flattening my hair with my padded helmet—I’m off for a bike ride!
This morning, with a pleasant breeze and a combination of gentle up- and downhills, I took off with my daughter for one of our last rides together (she’s relocating from So. California to Oregon next month!). Another opportunity to chat, enjoy smells of the countryside (we pass chickens and dairy cows along the way), and work my legs and lungs. But on my drive home, I reflected on all the other reasons bicycling is great for folks over 50:
1) Sun, sleep, and weight control
I’ve had more than my share of insomnia over the years, and have long known that exposure to sunlight during the morning hours helps one sleep better at night. Seems that AM light helps keep your body’s internal clock adjusted for optimal nighttime snoozing. An added bonus of adequate sleep—it’s associated with lower body weight through the influence on two hormones that affect eating–ghrelin and leptin. And now a new study shows that folks exposed to moderate intensity light exposure earlier in the day had a lower BMI than those exposed in later hours.
2) Vitamin D
If you can get out in the sun, it’s the natural way to receive your Vitamin D fix. But this vitamin is looking more like a super-nutrient these days. Beyond it beneficial effect on strong bones, researchers are linking vitamin D to lowering blood pressure, reducing the risk of diabetes, and certain types of cancer and autoimmune diseases.
3) Brain power
Aerobic exercise such as bicycling is one of the best ways to keep your mind young. John J. Ratey, MD, sums up these benefits in his book Spark: “The best way to guard against neurodegenerative diseases is to build a strong brain.” Aerobic exercise accomplishes this by strengthening and expanding the connections between brain cells, improving your brain’s ability to learn and remember.
4) Calorie Burner
I burn about 400 calories in an hour of moderate bicycling (and because I’m petite, almost everybody torches more calories than that!). It’s a fun way to fulfill part of the 150 minutes of moderate exercise that’s recommended for all adults. As an added bonus, I continue to shed additional calories for a few hours due to the EPOC effect (exercise post oxygen consumption). Read more about this in my blog Exercise’s Fleeting Afterglow.
5) Gentle joint activity
My knees aren’t getting any younger, and with osteoarthritis already haunting my shoulders and hands, it may be just a matter of time before it travels down my body. Fortunately, biking is a low-impact exercise; if done correctly, it results in reduced strain on your lower back, hips, and knees compared to other exercise modalities. And cycling helps strengthen the muscles that move the knee.
So find yourself a comfortable two-wheeler, and start biking!