The study took a look at 84 male and 41 female cyclers between the ages of 55 and 79. The goal was to see how the aging process affects the human body and whether specific physiological markers can be used to determine your age.
What they discovered was that many amateur older cyclists had levels of physiological function that would place them at a much younger age compared to the general population. This finding goes against the common assumption that aging automatically makes you frailer. The cyclists were recruited to exclude the effects of a sedentary lifestyle, which can aggravate health problems and cause changes in the body which might appear to be due to the aging process. Smokers, heavy drinkers and those with high blood pressure or other health conditions were excluded from the study.
The Cyclists Routine
- Two days of laboratory testing at Kings College to determine reflexes, muscle strength, oxygen uptake during exercise and peak explosive cycling power.
- A physiological profile with measures of cardiovascular, respiratory, neuromuscular, metabolic, endocrine and cognitive functions, bone strength, and health and well-being.
- The men cyclists had to be able to cycle 100 kilometers in under 6.5 hours and the women had to be able to cycle 60 kilometers in less than 5.5 hours.
- The effects of aging were far from obvious. People of different ages could have similar levels of function including muscle strength, lung power and exercise capacity.
- The maximum rate of oxygen consumption showed the closest association with age, but even this marker could not identify with any degree of accuracy the age of any given individual, which would be the requirement for any useful biomarkers of aging.
- The time taken to stand from a chair, walk three meters, turn, walk back and sit down was also measured. Taking more than 15 seconds to do this generally indicates a high risk of falling. Even the oldest participants fell well below these levels which fit well within the norm for healthy young adults.
The study concluded that aging is likely to be a highly individualist phenomenon. As people are so different, the team concluded that more studies are needed which follow the same healthy and exercising individuals over time to better understand the effects of aging the body.
An essential part of our study was deciding which volunteers should be selected to explore the effects of aging, said lead author Dr. Ross Pollock. The main problem facing health research is that in modern societies the majority of the population is inactive. A sedentary lifestyle causes physiological problems at any age. Hence the confusion as to how much the decline in bodily functions is due to the natural aging process and how much is due to the combined effects of aging and inactivity. In many models of aging, lifespan is the primary measure, but in human beings this is arguably less important than the consequences of deterioration in health. Healthy life expectancy - our health span - is not keeping pace with the average lifespan, and the years we spend with poor health and disabilities in old age are growing."