A lifetime of regular physical activity slows down aging, as found in a 2019 study by researchers at the University of Birmingham. Walking, swimming, and cycling are often recommended for seniors because they do not cause stress to the joints and can be engaged in by people of all ages and fitness levels. A recent study by Louse-Ann Leyland and colleagues suggests that there is an additional reason why older people should consider cycling as a regular sport: it can boost cognitive functioning and wellbeing, also boosting brain integrity and helping to reduce the occurrence of diseases such as Alzheimer’s and vascular dementia.
Focusing on the Great Outdoors
The above study sought to investigate the effect that outdoor cycling in particular, had on the mental health and cognitive functioning of older adults. The study participants took part in an eight-week cycling program, completing a number of tasks (including verbal fluency, arithmetic, and working memory tests) before and after the program. The results showed that outdoor cycling brought about improvements in executive function (a set of skills that includes working memory and self-control). Participants also reported improved psychological wellbeing, which in turn can help seniors maintain cognitive function.
The Bike Makes the Difference
The study made one interesting finding: participants who rode an e-bike instead of a pedal bike showed marked improvements in their speed of processing information. The scientists concluded that “it is not just the physical component of the activity but a number of different aspects of cycling that can improve cognition and mental health.” These include engaging with the outdoor environment, independence, and mobility. Bikes need to match users and their needs in order to boost the sense of enjoyment of this sport. Riders in need of a helpful push for tougher uphills in their area, for instance, can benefit from an e-bike, riding alongside other members of the family who may be more into classic steel bikes, cross-country bike or traditional road bikes.
What Benefits do the Great Outdoors Have?
Many studies have been carried out into the benefits of indoor cycling. Nature-filled rides wield a magic of their own, with studies showing that just a few minutes in a green setting can help lower stress and improve mood. When the weather is less than perfect, seniors can take advantage of the emotional benefits of the outdoors by watching tropical fish swim in a tank or by otherwise finding ways to introduce nature into their workout. If your indoor bike is located by a window looking out to nature, all the better. Researchers from the University of Texas found that participants who looked at trees through a glass window while exercising, had lower resulting stress levels than those who gazed at natural sites on a plasma screen.
If you are a senior looking for a workout that will keep you mentally sharp as well as physically fit, cycling might be the right sport for you. Studies have shown that this activity can boost cognitive function while also benefiting psychological health. To enhance the stress-busting effects of cycling, think of taking your next routine outdoors and if this is impossible, find a way to bring nature into your home.