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Seniors on Bikes


06 February 2007

Growing older is something that happens to all of us – but ageing doesn’t have to mean doing less.

Increasingly, older people find that additional leisure time means a greater opportunity for activity. They also become more aware that exercise and fitness are essential in order to maintain quality of life.

As part of the annual NSW Seniors Week activities, BUGs around NSW have organised a variety of rides especially aimed at encouraging older people to take up cycoing (details here).

Getting on your bike regularly not only gets you where you want to go faster than a car, it protects you against a wide range of ill health, and also makes you feel better.

Cycling is good for your heart and health

Everyday cycling, where the exercise leaves you breathing heavily but not being out of breath, is an effective and enjoyable form of aerobic exercise. This is the type of exercise that is most effective at promoting good health. For example, cycling reduces the risk of serious conditions such as heart disease, high blood pressure, obesity and the most common form of diabetes.

One rough calculation suggests that new cyclists covering short distances can reduce their risk of death (mainly due to the reduction of heart disease) by as much as 22 per cent.

Cycling will help with weight management

Cycling can be part of a programme to lose weight because it burns the energy supplied by a chocolate bar or a couple of alcoholic drinks in an hour (about 300 calories). A 15-minute bike ride to and from work five times a week burns off the equivalent of 5kgs of fat in a year. That kind of cycling pattern also meets the recommended target on exercise: that we should take part in some mild to moderate physical activity that leaves us out of breath for at least 30 minutes five times a week.

Cycling can improve your mood

Cycling can have positive effects on how we feel too. Moderate exercise has been found to reduce levels of depression and stress, improve mood and raise self-esteem.

Cycling can help to maintain strength and coordination

There can also be indirect benefits in terms of reducing injuries from falls, which can be seriously disabling, especially in older people. The strength and co-ordination that regular cycling brings make them less likely. Physically active older people have much reduced rates of hip fracture.

How cycling improves fitness

Studies have found that 'even a small amount of cycling can lead to significant gains in fitness'. Aerobic fitness was boosted by 11 per cent after just six weeks of cycling 'short distances' four times a week. If cycling the equivalent of 2.5km to and from work or shops per day the aerobic benefit increased to 17 per cent.

People who do not exercise who start cycling move from the third of the population who are the least fit, to the fittest half of the population in just a few months.

Leg strength also improved in the cyclists in the study. This is more important than it seems because leg strength improves other mobility by allowing people to get out of chairs more easily, and helps older people especially avoid falls and the broken bones and other injuries associated with them.

Cycling, researchers have concluded, is 'one of the few physical activities which can be undertaken by the majority of the population as part of a daily routine'.

Cyclists breathe in less fumes than car drivers

If you are worried about traffic fumes, there may be no need. Cyclists and pedestrians actually absorb lower levels of pollutants from traffic fumes than car drivers.

Who can cycle?

There are no real age barriers to cycling, and people of most fitness levels can cycle, slowly and gently if necessary. Anyone with heart disease or other conditions affecting their activity should, of course, consult their doctor before starting any exercise programme. Those of all body shapes and all but the most extreme body weights can ride a bike.

For details of bike rides in your area check the PushOn calendar, or to view all rides organised for Seniors Week, visit http://www.pushon.com.au/downloads/SeniorsWeek_Rides_050307.pdf

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