Cycling Beyond 50 – Muscles, Bones and Joints
The more muscle older adults maintain, the lower their risk of death, this is backed by solid research. People with the highest levels of muscle mass are less likely to die than those with the lowest levels of muscle mass. Similarly, people with the higher levels of cholesterol are also less likely to die. Low muscle strength is independently and significantly associated with an increase of all-cause mortality among US older adults regardless of muscle mass, metabolic syndrome risk factors, sedentary time, or leisure time physical activity. Rather than worrying about weight or body mass index, think of ways to maximize and maintain muscle mass. Taking in enough quality sources of protein and performing resistance exercises are key. Do your research and find out how best to achieve optimal muscle mass in your situation.
Bones are a funny thing with because young and old cyclists are known to have bone problems. There’s an old adage: at age 60, walking hurts my feet, running hurts my knees, but cycling feels great. Unlike other activities, cycling can usually be done for life. The main problems are weak bones due to decreased bone density (osteopenia), and even osteoporosis. Prevention is the key to avoiding bone fractures. Bone strength is not intuitive because it depends more on the protein content inside of the bones rather than the calcium content. Sitting at a desk is not ideal. Bone integrity depends on the flexibility of the bones and the everyday stresses placed on the body. Too often we stop running, jumping and climbing, subsequently our bones weaken. Also, hormonal balance is vital for maintaining bone strength. In men and women alike, hormone levels change around age 50 and contributes to bone problems. In men, especially those older than 50, low levels of testosterone decrease bone strength. Fact is that most of us do not get enough quality protein from our diets. Vitamin K2 (think hard cheeses) and D are very important in bone health and difficult to obtain in our current diets. The key is to eat a good nose to tail, whole foods diet. Agreed, this is hard to achieve in our present day society.
Cycling always comes with a risk of falling, thus maintaining bone strength is essential. Improving bike handling skills and learning to ride in a group are important ways to prevent falls. We always hear the story of a beginner cyclist who fell trying to clip in or out of their pedals. Take a bicycle course or befriend an experienced cyclist. Go practice bike handling skills on the grass where falls are inconsequential.
Remarkably, cycling would be seemingly harder on the joints considering we turn the pedals at some 5000 rpm per hour or 32 million revolutions per month, but it’s not. We all have read about people who can’t walk or stand in a supermarket line. But they can ride their bike for a hundred miles. Many seniors pick up cycling when they can no longer run or even walk. Cycling actually helps the joints, but ailments like arthritis and tendonitis must be addressed. Arthritis can be controlled with proper therapy and guidance. Work with a sports minded physician / therapist to manage hip and knee pain; once controlled, cycling is easy and natural. Many people don’t take advantage of a good physical therapist. Sometimes, you will have to go as far as replacing your diseased joint with a new one to be able to continue cycling. There are many examples of well-known cyclists riding and racing with artificial hips and knees.
Proper nutrition is very important. I always find it amazing how joint pain “magically” goes away when people stop eating processed foods and switch to a whole foods diet. Even with a good diet, sometimes it is necessary to use modern medicine to keep you riding. For example, sometimes an injection of anti-inflammatory steroids or hylauronic acid (synthetic knee – fluid) into the joint can ease the pain and keep you moving. Maintaining your ability to move is the most important concept.
The next article will focus on Cycling Beyond 50 and Cognition and Focus