Question: I’m 38 and in the best shape of my life. But I wonder if I’m about to start losing it as I near 40. How long can I maintain my present cycling fitness? – Barry N.
Coach Fred Matheny Replies: I began riding seriously in my 20s and managed to keep improving into my 50s. In fact, I set personal records after passing the half-century mark, as did some friends. So you still have lots of good years to look forward to.
In preparation for a talk on “Aging and the Cyclist” at a medical conference, I did quite a bit of research on this subject.
The ability of muscle cells to consume oxygen (VO2 max) is a good marker for endurance performance. Studies show that although sedentary people see their VO2 max decline at a rate of about 1% per year after age 40, active people lose only 0.5%. And competitors who continue a long-term vigorous training program might lose only about 0.25% annually.
Even better, some life-long endurance athletes have actually improved their oxygen uptake between ages 45 and 55. Here are 5 of their secrets:
- Consistent training. Keep it up year after year and never take lengthy layoffs. The cliches are true: Use it or lose it. When you rest (meaning, long breaks off the bike) you rust.
- Hard efforts. Don’t just ride, ride with intensity at times. Vigorous pedaling preserves oxygen uptake better than cruising.
- Weight training. This helps keep body fat levels low and strength high. Most people gain fat and lose muscle volume as they age even if their bodyweight stays constant. Lift weights consistently to preserve precious muscle mass.
- Healthful lifestyle. Avoid risky habits and behavior. This includes risks on the bike like bombing descents at the limits of control. Stay active and motivated by finding ways to keep cycling fun. Ride with others, buy a new bike, find different roads, commute, accept the challenges of racing or long-distance events.
- Longevity genes. Some people simply seem to age slower than others. Did you choose the right parents?
For more detail on this topic, check Dr. Alan Bragman’s eArticle, Aging and Cycling, available in the RBR eBookstore.