As I wrote several months ago, I fell off a ladder and shattered my ankle, which is now held together with four screws. The bad news is that I’ve been off the bike since January 26. I’m just starting riding the trainer – 5 minutes today and building back up slowly. I’ll be back on the road by May. The good news is that I’ve had time to do a lot of reading, especially about exercise and aging including these scientific studies. Here are some of the things I’ve learned.
Physical Declines Begin Sooner Than Expected.
Even if you are still in your 50s, now is the time to start maintaining all aspects of fitness!
Researchers at the Center for the Study of Aging and Human Development at the Duke University School of Medicine studied 775 participants ranging in age from their 30s through their 100s, with broad representation across sexes and races. They all did the same functional fitness tests to demonstrate strength, endurance or balance: rising from a chair repeatedly for 30 seconds; standing on one leg for a minute; and walking for six minutes. Additionally, their walking speed was measured over a distance of about 10 yards.
Both men and women in their 50s began to slip in their ability to stand on one leg and to rise from a chair. This decline continued through the decades. Participants in their 60s and 70s exhibited declines in aerobic endurance and gait speed.
“Typically, functional tests are conducted on people in their 70s and 80s, and by then you’ve missed 40 years of opportunities to remedy problems,” according to Miriam C. Morey, Ph.D., the senior author of a study.
Good news! Americans are Aging More Slowly
Researchers at the University of Southern California examined national health data over a 20-year period. The data indicate that the rate of biological aging appears to be slowing compared to chronological aging for all Americans.
The review found that rate of biological aging slowed most for older adults and more for men than women. These differences were partially explained by changes in smoking, obesity, and medication use.
Put this together with the above study: the average Americans are biologically aging more slowly; however, this longer life span means greater physical decline and infirmity before death unless you remain active.
Higher Level of Fitness Persists as You Age
Dr. Jack Daniels, a professor of kinesiology at A.T. Still University in Mesa, Arizona, tested 26 athletes at the 1968 track and field trials for the Olympics. Their aerobic capacities (VO2 max) were all in the 98th percentile for men of their age. Several medaled at the Olympics. In 1993 the athletes were tested at which point most had cut back significantly on their exercise. In 2013 the athletes were tested again. Their 2013 VO2 max numbers still placed them in the top 10 percent or so of older American men. The septuagenarians never stopped exercising altogether, except during periods of illness or injury.
Other studies have reached the same conclusion that individuals who continue to do endurance exercise maintain a relatively higher VO2 max compared to sedentary individuals.
If you continue to work out you’ll continue to have a VO2 max well above average!
Anti-Aging: 12 Ways You Can Slow the Aging Process is your comprehensive guide to aging well. The 106-page eBook is available for $14.99
Anti-Aging includes an annual plan to put together all six of the aspects of aging well: cardiovascular exercise, intensity training, strength workouts, weight-bearing exercise, stretching and balance. The book concludes with a chapter on motivation.
The book describes the physiological changes that take place as you age, how to assess your current fitness and the training principles that apply to older roadies.
Coach Hughes incorporates the latest research and most of it is new material not published in his previous eArticles on cycling past 50, 60 and beyond.
Anti-Aging: 12 Ways You Can Slow the Aging Process gives you the tools you need to slow the inevitable decline in your health and fitness.
Anti-Aging describes the physiological changes that take place as you age, how to assess your current fitness and the training principles that apply to older roadies.
Endurance Exercise Can Keep Aging Muscles and Immune Systems Young.
British scientists studied a cohort of highly and homogeneously active older male (n = 84) and female (n = 41) cyclists aged 55–79 years. Each had been cycling for decades, and still pedaled about 400 miles per month. None were competitive athletes.
The cyclists had reflexes, memories, balance and metabolic profiles that more closely resembled those of 30-year-olds than of the sedentary older group. The researchers then examined muscle tissue that had been biopsied from the legs of 90 of the riders.
The older cyclists’ muscles generally retained their size, fiber composition and other markers of good health across the decades, with those riders who covered the most mileage each month displaying the healthiest muscles, whatever their age.
Riding also benefited the riders’ immune systems. In the older sedentary people, the output of new T cells from the thymus glands is low. The T-cell is a type of white blood cells that are like soldiers who search out and destroy the targeted invaders. The aging cyclists had almost as many new T cells in their blood as did the young people.
Interval Training Repairs the Effects of Aging on Muscle Cells
Aging damages the cells in your muscles, which is especially severe, because they do not regenerate easily. They become weaker as their mitochondria, where energy is produced energy, diminish in vigor and number. Researchers at the Mayo Clinic tested four different training protocols on two sets of participants. One group was age 18 to 30 and the second set of participants was age 65 to 80.
The age groups were then separated into three subgroups and followed for 12 weeks as they either completed:
Vigorous weight training only, twice a week doing four sets of 8-12 repetitions of lower and upper body exercises.
Interval training only, three times a week on a stationary bike. The intervals were: repeat four times (4 minutes hard and 3 minutes easy).
Moderate training only using both weights and the stationary bike. Five days per week of moderate cycling for 30 minutes per session and four days per week weight lifting with fewer repetitions than the vigorous weight training.
Researchers found that although weight training increased muscle mass, the interval training increased the number of mitochondrial capacity for the older group by a dramatic 69 percent. They recommend that if you can only do one thing, intervals give you the biggest gain. But if you can do intervals and some weight training, you’d get the best overall health benefits because you can then also increase your muscle mass and fight age related muscle loss.
Strength Exercise is also Beneficial
Two other studies reached different conclusions than the British study on the importance of strength training to retain muscle mass as you age. One reviewed the data in multiple studies. The review suggests that endurance training is insufficient for optimal maintenance of muscle mass of the total body, and that endurance athletes would benefit from the addition of resistance exercise to their training regimen.
Why is endurance training insufficient? Sarcopenia is the age-related loss of skeletal muscle mass and function. On your rides you are using primarily type I muscle fibers, which have great endurance but low power. When you hammer up a short hill or sprint you also use your type II fibers, which have greater power but limited endurance. Most of the age-related loss of skeletal muscle mass and strength is explained by the reduced size and number of type II fibers.
Leg Strength Training for Increased Cycling Efficiency
Another study examined the effects of a leg strengthening program. Nine master (age 51.5 ± 5.5 years) and eight young (age 25.6 ± 5.9 years) endurance athletes with similar training levels followed the same training program for three weeks. Each week they did three strength training sessions of 10 sets of 10 knee extensions to strengthen the quads with three minutes rest between sets. The training resistance was set to increase muscle endurance rather than a higher training resistance to increase muscle size and power. The addition of the strength training program induced a significant improvement in strength and cycling efficiency in the master athletes.
By working on all aspects of fitness you can also slow the rate of physical decline. These aspects includes endurance and intensity riding as well as training for strength, balance, flexibility and strong bones.
Next – Pearl Izumi review
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 nearly 30 eBooks and eArticles on cycling training and nutrition, available in RBR’s eBookstore at Coach John Hughes. Click to read John's full bio.