Bikes are a great way for people of all ages to get in shape and stay in shape. There are some age-specific considerations to keep in mind, though, if you want to maximize your cycling experience.
Cycling in Your 30s and 40s
Generally speaking, the cycling routines in guide are well-suited for cyclists in their 30s and 40s. To get started, find the workout plan that best meets your current level of skill, fitness, and health, then work up from there.
For many cyclists in this age range, the biggest challenges that need to be considered are issues surrounding time. Since the 30s and 40s are for many people their prime working years, and since many in this age range are also managing a variety of family, child rearing, and community commitments, it can be very hard to find time to exercise regularly. As a result, many find themselves in less-than-peak physical condition.
Fortunately, cycling can be an excellent solution. If you’re strapped for time, consider commuting by bike. When a bike becomes your primary mode of transportation, you build exercise into your daily routine, whether it’s running errands, going to and from work, or anything else. And research has identified a number of powerful benefits from bike commuting, including better physical, emotional, and mental health.
However, bike commuting also raises some new challenges of its own. Studies of bike commuting have found that the most “common barriers to cycle commuting include the physical constraints associated with hilly terrain, poor physical fitness, lack of time and the distance to work.”25 Similarly, many people avoid bike commuting because they don’t want to arrive at their destination sweaty, out of breath, or dirty.
To overcome these barriers and tap into the benefits of bike commuting, try to find routes to your destinations that avoid large hills and roads with heavy traffic. Additionally, it can be very helpful to prepare your bike for commuting by installing fenders for bad weather, a rear rack with either a basket or panniers to haul things around with you, and other similar modifications. You’ll also need to figure out where you can safely store your bike during the day. And if you’re biking to school or work, it can be helpful to find a place to shower and change into your regular clothes, either on-site or at a nearby gym.
Finally, consider riding an electric bicycle. For many cyclists, e-bikes are the perfect solution, as they provide a quick, convenient, and fun way to address many of the most common barriers to cycling. Multiple studies have found that riding an e-bike still gives you many of the same health benefits as pedaling a conventional bicycle, while also making it much easier to travel long distances, get where you’re going faster, make it up hills with minimal effort, and avoid showing up at your destination sweaty and dirty.
Cycling at 50 and Up
Cycling holds some very exciting possibilities for folks 50 years and older. For example, a study published in 2018 found that people between 55-79 years old who regularly ride their bikes showed significantly less muscle deterioration than their sedentary peers.
Similarly, another study discovered that people aged 57-80 who cycle had white blood cell levels comparable to people aged 20-36—an important indicator for a strong immune system.28 And this is the just the tip of the iceberg. In short, the data shows that riding a bike can help postpone many of the negative health conditions typically associated with aging.
Here some tips to help you get the most out of your cycling experience:
- While cycling is a low-impact exercise, you still need to protect your joints. Be sure your bike fits and your seat is at the proper height. When pedaling, you should never fully extend or lock your knees, nor should your knees be so bent that it fatigues your muscles or stresses your joints. Instead, your knees should have a very slight bend when you’re at the bottom of your downstroke.
- Similarly, try to pedal in smooth and steady strokes with your legs pumping up and down in a relatively straight vertical line. While pedaling, you should be able to draw a straight line from your shin to your thigh.
- Ride a bike that lets you pedal with a more upright posture, which puts less strain on your wrists, elbows, shoulders, and back than a more aggressive, bent-over posture. In addition to selecting a bike with a less aggressive geometry, you can also opt for a longer stem and swept back handlebars, both of which will give you a more comfortable riding position.
- Ease into your cycling experience. There’s no rush to dive into intense workouts. Instead, take your time and gradually build your strength and endurance with easier rides. And don’t forget to begin each ride with a light warm-up interval and end with a cool down period.
- It’s better to ride frequently at an easier pace than to complete fewer rides at higher intensity. Shoot for 3-5 rides weekly, each in the ballpark of 30-60 minutes long. And if you want to build your strength and endurance, increase the length of your rides by 10% each week.
- Ride with friends. Research shows that physical exercise, intellectual stimulation, and social interactions help slow cognitive aging, including the onset of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. When you pedal with a group, you get a healthy dose of all three.
- Riding a bike requires good physical balance and unfortunately, loss of balance is often a side effect of aging. So as you ride your bike, be mindful of how well you can balance. Activities like stretching and yoga are a great adjunct to cycling, as they will help improve balance and complement the exercise you get from pedaling.
- Experiment with electric bicycles. E-bikes are becoming increasingly popular around the world, largely because they make it incredibly easy for beginners to begin cycling, and for more experienced cyclists to ride further and to complete more strenuous rides. To get the most out of your e-bike, do a combination of pedaling and motor assistance, rather than letting the motor do all the work.