A medical research carried out in the United Kingdom (UK) on a group of older cyclists had debunked the long-standing myth that poor health and frailty are an inseparable part of old age. Researchers had discovered that there is little physical difference between people who are 79 years old and 55 years old, as long as they maintain similar levels of exercise.
Carried out over a course of two days at a laboratory at the King’s College London, the findings from the research are the latest set of research literature to support the view that maintaining activeness by exercising will help ensure that old age is spent in good health. The results showed that the effects of ageing on the participants were far from obvious and they have shown to possess similar levels of bodily functions such as muscle strength, lung power and exercise capacity, regardless of their age. The research involved a group of 125 fit amateur cyclists between 55 and 79 years old, in which they were tested on a wide range of physical functions commonly associated with ageing such as aerobic fitness, resting heart rate, skeletal mass, breathing ability and muscle density. The participants, which comprised 84 male and 41 female cyclists had to cycle 100km in under 6.5 hours and 60km in 5.5 hours, respectively, in the course of the research.
The testing of the physical functions aimed to determine if any of the physiological markers (e.g. breathing ability) was able to distinguish the age of the participants. Surprisingly, none of the markers was able to accurately identify the age of the cyclists.
Director of the Centre of Human & Aerospace Physiological Sciences Professor Stephen Harridge observed that the results of the research suggested that the test subjects are younger physiologically, and without looking at their physical appearance, one will perceive the participants to be younger than what they really are. He said: “If you couldn’t see these people many of these functions (from the findings) would point them to a much younger age. By exercising you do what your body wants it to do and are allowing to age optimally.”
Dismissing the common assumption that the ageing process will automatically makes one doddery and infirm, Professor Harridge concluded from the research, “So it is not ageing itself which brings about poor function and frailty, but the fact that people have stopped exercising and are no longer active.”
Emeritus Professor Norman Lazarus, who is one of the test subjects, said: “Inevitably, our bodies will experience some decline with age, but staying physically active can buy you extra years of function compared to sedentary people. Cycling not only keeps you mentally alert, but requires the vigorous use of many of the body’s key systems, such as your muscles, heart and lungs which you need for maintaining health and for reducing the risks associated with numerous diseases.”
Cycling was chosen as the test activity. However, researchers explained that other forms of aerobic activity would have produced similar results.
Several charities applauded the findings of the research. Ms Jane Tadman of Arthritis Research UK, a medical research charity, said: “The findings of this study back up our own research in the fact that many symptoms associated with ageing such as frailty are caused by being physical inactive. So many of our population are now living well into their 70s and 80s, and that should be a cause for celebration. But unless we can ensure that old age is spent in good health through remaining active, and this doesn’t necessarily meaning visiting the gym, it could be climbing the stairs on a regular basis, it will be a stage in life that is endured rather than enjoyed.”