Cycling For A “Younger” Metabolism

By Shelby Stoner, PHASE IV Exercise Physiologist

Did you know that the month of May is recognized as National Bike Month? It’s a time to celebrate bikes, cycling, and most importantly a reminder to dust off those bikes sitting in your garage! A great way to get involved in the festivities of bike month include National Bike to Work Week or Bike to Work Day, occurring the third week and third Friday of May, respectively.

With the growing awareness of health and disease, cycling has been recognized on a large scale for its sustainability and as a solution to many health concerns including but not limited to; obesity, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and insulin resistance. Still need another reason to start cycling?

Recent studies of recreational cyclists as reviewed by the New York Times showed that remaining physically active as we grow older helps keep our muscles and immune systems strong. Although the act of aging is inevitable, there are countless things we can do to help slow the effects of aging on our bodies. This is what lead British Scientists to take a deeper look into the immune systems of recreational male and female cyclists between the ages of 55 to 79, none of which were competitive athletes. Researchers found that the group of cyclists had better reflexes, memory, balance and metabolic profiles than their sedentary counterparts and resembled those of 30-year-olds! The scientists concluded that the older cyclists are not like the rest of us.

“They are healthier. They are biologically, younger.”

Just ask 106-year-old Robert Marchand, a French cyclist who still enjoys leisurely rides on his stationary bike at his apartment in Paris. Marchand is most famously known for creating and setting the world record for distance traveled in an hour for amateur cyclists over 105. Granted, he didn’t have much competition, but the feat still proved to be a huge milestone for cyclists and sparked the interest of researchers in exercise science. Science suggests that it is difficult to significantly improve aerobic fitness after middle age. In general, your VO2 max, a measure of how well your body can use oxygen and indicator of fitness, slowly begins to decline after about age 50, even if we frequently exercise. Marchand however, set the record straight. With a 5 foot-115 pound stature, he stated he had not exercised regularly during the majority of his working life as a truck driver, gardener, firefighter and lumberjack. After retiring, he began cycling most days of the week on indoor trainers or on the roads in suburban Paris. After setting the one-hour record in 2012 for riders age 100 and over, Dr. Billat, a professor of exercise science at the University of Evry-Val d’Essonne in France approached Marchand and implemented a new exercise regime with 80 percent of his rides at low intensity (about the equivalent of a 12 or less on a scale of 1 to 20, with 20 being almost unbearably strenuous according to  Marchand’s judgment) and the other 20 percent of his rides were performed at a difficult intensity of 15 or above on the same scale.

Marchand followed this program for two years before attempting to beat his previous own one-hour track world record. First, however, Dr. Billat and her colleagues remeasured all of the physiological markers they had tested two years prior, and the results were astonishing. Marchand had improved his VO2 max by a whopping 13 percent, and was comparable to the aerobic capacity of a healthy 50-year-old. Unsurprisingly, his cycling performance subsequently also improved considerably. According to Dr. Billat, these data strongly suggest that “we can improve VO2 max and performance at every age.”

Just as the British group of cyclists and Mr. Marchand proved, fitness and metabolism can be improved at virtually any age. Whether you’ve been an avid cyclist for years or just looking to get back on the saddle, there are many great benefits that come with cycling (not to mention it helps keep the knees young[er]!).

Kick off National Bike Month by scheduling a VO2 bike test to get personalized heart rate training zones and make EVERY workout effective! (Can be performed on your personal road bike too!)

Looking for personalized exercise and training guidance?

At PHASE IV we create customized daily training plans that are designed to boost performance and optimize your metabolism. Call us to schedule a complimentary 30-minute consultation at our facility in Santa Monica. 310-582-8212

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