Riders 50 years and older are the fastest growing segment of the cycling community. Here are several reasons among others.
- Long-time exercisers such as former runners, triathletes and others are switching to cycling because it’s easier on aging muscles and joints.
- Around 50 the physical signs of aging become more apparent. Wrinkles start to appear, activities of daily living become a little harder and one has less energy. I wrote a column on Is Cycling Good for 50 Year Olds?
- People are realizing the importance of exercise for good health and the importance of starting now. I wrote a column on Anti-Aging Before Retirement, which also applies to all of us who have retired.
- A cycling friend encourages someone to start riding.
Perceptions, preconceptions and myths about aging and exercise abound. Good news! Most of them aren’t true!
1. Age is important.
I turn 72 on April 22. Does this matter? Is my fitness suddenly worse on April 22 than the day before? Chronological age, while relevant, isn’t even on the short list of factors that affect my fitness and yours. My exercise history, current exercise, diet, lifestyle habits like smoking and drinking, stress management and even how much sleep I get are more important then my chronological age. And all of these factors are under your control!
Of course chronological age does have some effect on our fitness but it’s not nearly as important as our society thinks it is. Family history is the one significant factor over which you have no control. I wrote a column on How Old Are You Really?
2. About age 50 performance declines inevitably.
Unfortunately for most people aging means the fairly rapid loss of all kinds of fitness: endurance, power, strength, etc. The American College of Sports Medicine’s recommendations, about which I write frequently, are intended to slow – but not stop or reverse – the physical decline that goes with aging. However, unless you are a world-class athlete, getting older doesn’t have to mean losing fitness.
3. Cycling can slow even reverse the physical decline.
Cycling can promote aerobic fitness and if you’re a fairly new rider you can improve your aerobic fitness. Even if you have many miles in your legs through proper training you, too, can improve! However, aerobic capacity is only one aspect of fitness. You also lose muscle strength, flexibility, balance and bone strength. The American College of Sports Medicine’s recommendations address all of these.
4. Exercising too much or too hard is unhealthy.
This is one of the most common myths. Current research shows there isn’t any downside to exercising more and more. Even if there is a downside to riding many, many miles, cycling improves the quality and enjoyment of life. “I don’t ride a bike to add days to my life, I ride a bike to add life to my days.” – Unknown Here’s a column I wrote about Can You Exercise Too Much?
5. More exercise is the key to improvement.
Maybe. Depending on how much you’re riding now, increasing your mileage may help you to improve, especially if you’re fairly new to cycling. However, for most riders more miles doesn’t produce improvement. For most of my new clients I cut back on the amount of riding they do and mix up the types and intensities of their riding. I wrote this column on How Can a Beginning Cyclist Improve?
6. High intensity exercise is necessary.
Riding very hard is only important if you want to reach peak performance. For good health and long life skip the pain! However, you will improve if you incorporate the right kind of intensity training, training appropriate to your personal goals. In this column I explain Six Kinds of Intensity Training – Which Is the Right One for You.
- I’ve written a 27-page eBook on Cycling Past 50, 60 and Beyond: Training with Intensity.
- If you are striving for peak performance this 17-page eBook will tell you how: Cycling Past 50, 60 and Beyond
In the ebook, Cycling Past 50, 60 and Beyond Bundle, Coach John Hughes shares his personal insight and the current research into how different physiological systems worsen with age.
7. Older riders need more recovery.
Yes, but. The training paradigm is:
- Training overload + Recovery -> Improvement
You only improve if you include sufficient time for recovery. Physiologically as you get older your body doesn’t repair itself as quickly.
Ned Overend at age 35 won the first UCI World MTB Championship in 1990 in Durango, Colorado and again in 1991. In 2015 at the age of 60, he won the first US Fatbike championship. On training, he said, “I do exactly what I have always done; it just takes me longer.” A four-week training block now takes him six to eight weeks because he needs more recovery. (Friel, Fast After 50)
Overend is a world-class athlete training at a world-class level and he does need more recovery. If you are really pushing your limits when you train then you need more recovery, too.
The rate of recovery, however, depends on the quality of your recovery. Here’s a column I wrote on 9 Tips on Recovery for Cyclists 50 and Beyond.
How much recovery you need also depends on your athletic maturity. The more years you’ve been exercising the less recovery you need, although recovery is still important. Here are two columns I’ve written:
Want to get more benefit from your workouts? See the ebook Optimal Recovery for Improved Performance.
Experiment of one.
One of the above may be true, depending on who you are, how many years you’ve been riding, what your goals are and whether you also do other kinds of exercise. Test the different propositions to see if they apply to you. Try upping your mileage to see if you become a better rider. If not, try improving your recovery and reducing your riding.
My eBook Anti-Aging: 12 Ways You Can Slow the Aging Processincludes chapters on how to meet the ACSM’s recommendations on aerobic, high intensity aerobic, strength training, weight-bearing exercises, balance and flexibility. I include sample weeks and months for different amounts of exercise. I give you plans to build up to 100 km and 100 mile rides. I include a plan to increase over two years your annual riding from around 4,000 miles (6,500 km) to over 5,000 miles (8,000 km) a year. You can easily modify the plan for different annual amounts of riding.
I discuss the importance of recovery and how to gauge if you are getting enough recovery. I combine the different kinds of training into programs balancing training and recovery. The 106-page Anti-Aging: 12 Ways You Can Slow the Aging Processis $14.99.
Coach John Hughes earned coaching certifications from USA Cycling and the National Strength and Conditioning Association. John’s cycling career includes course records in the Boston-Montreal-Boston 1200-km randonnée and the Furnace Creek 508, a Race Across AMerica (RAAM) qualifier. He has ridden solo RAAM twice and is a 5-time finisher of the 1200-km Paris-Brest-Paris. He has written over 40 eBooks and eArticles on cycling training and nutrition, available in RBR’s eBookstore at Coach John Hughes. Click to read John’s full bio.