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Intelligent Cycling Training—Training

Healthy Cyclist Past Age 50

How to live a healthier, happier, longer life.

“With proper exercise and recovery you can offset many of the effects of aging.”

by John Hughes
© John Hughes 2012, All Rights Reserved

John Hughes is the author of Distance Cycling and many articles on training, nutrition, psychology and medical issues for RoadBikeRider.com. He is the the former director of the UltraMarathon Cycling Association and editor of UltraCycling, has been certified by the National Strength and Conditioning Association as a personal trainer and by USA Cycling as a coach.

Somewhere around age 50 we realize that our bodies have limits. We can’t ride as fast, climb as powerfully and sprint as hard as we used to. We can’t lift as much weight as before. We start to develop aches and pains like stiff muscles and sore joints. Time to retire to the rocking chair? No! With proper exercise and recovery you can offset many of the effects of aging.

Normal Aging
What happens as we age? The normal aging process includes:

  • Decreased cardiac output as a result of lower maximum heart rate and decreased stroke volume, i.e., how much blood the heart pumps per beat.
  • Decreased pulmonary function, i.e., the volume of air inspired per breath.
  • Loss of aerobic endurance.
  • Atrophy of muscles, particularly of the fast twitch muscles.
  • Decreased muscle tone.
  • Loss of muscle power as a result of atrophy of the fast twitch muscles.
  • Slower metabolism as a result of decreased muscle mass.
  • Increased body weight as a result of slower metabolism and decreased activity.
  • Loss of bone density.
  • Decreased production of the enzymes that are used to produce fuel for the muscles.
  • Slower transmission of impulses through the nervous system to the muscles.
  • Overall decline in the functional capacity to do physical work.

Fortunately, with regular exercise almost all of these changes can be counteracted with the exception of lower maximum heart rate and slower transmission of nervous impulses.

Pathological Aging
In addition to aging normally, we may also age pathologically. Fortunately, the risk of these pathological conditions can be reduced significantly through regular exercise:

  • Heart disease.
  • Type II diabetes, also known as adult onset diabetes.
  • Stroke.
  • Excess body weight, which contributes to the above.
  • Osteoporosis, lower bone mineral density.
  • Alzheimer’s, the most common form of dementia.
  • Mood disorders such as depression.
Exercise Recommendations
For healthy aging the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) recommends:
  • Aerobic activity: Accumulating a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity a week in bouts of at least 10 minutes each. This is just 2-1/2 hours a week, which the ACSM recommends spreading over most days. Studies show that this much aerobic activity spread out over the week can cut your risk of heart attack, stroke and Type II diabetes by as much as half! More exercise up to 300 minutes per week will bring additional benefits. Moderate exercise means working hard enough that you can’t whistle but can still talk in short sentences. Here’s more information on gauging exercise intensity.
  • Weight-bearing activity: Engaging in aerobic weight-bearing activity. Bones, like muscles, respond to an overload by getting stronger. Stair climbing and descending, jogging, running and hiking with a pack are excellent. Dancing, tennis, badminton, basketball and soccer are high-impact and also require balance and coordination, which is great. If you can’t do one of the others, then brisk continuous walking helps. Cycling, even riding hard, puts less load on the bones that walking. Walking with a dog that stops frequently isn’t adequate, nor is walking with part of your weight on a stroller or grocery cart.
  • Resistance training: Exercising to strengthen your muscles twice a week. You can follow this simple home strength training program without going to the gym.
  • Flexibility exercises: Stretching for at least 10 minutes twice a week. Here is a sample stretching program.
  • Balance practice: For individuals at risk of falling, exercises to challenge and improve balance.
Program Integration
An effective program for healthy aging includes:
  • Variety: Including all of the above categories of exercise.
  • Moderation: Exercising within your personal limits. You can exercise so that you are breathing deeply, but never should be out of breath.
  • Consistency: Ongoing physical health depends on exercising year-round.
  • Progression: As your body adapts you need to challenge it a bit more to keep improving. You can safely increase the amount of time exercising aerobically by 10 percent per week. Similarly, you can increase the number of resistance training repetitions week by week.
  • Recovery: As we age we don’t recover as quickly so alternate harder and easier days and take at least one day a week off from exercising other than stretching. Use these recovery tips.

Successful Older Athletes

Elizabeth Wicks broke the women’s age 65 to 69 record at Calvin’s 12-Hour Challenge in 2013 and the W70-74 record in 2014. I coached Wicks. Here is her training program.

Peter Lekisch in 2001 became the first rider over age 60 to finish the solo Race Across America. I coached Lekisch. Here is his training program.

More Information

Cycling Past 50. A 4-article bundle of 98 pages for just $15.96, a 20% discount from RoadBikeRider.com. The bundle includes:

  1. Healthy Cycling Past 50. What happens as we age and how to incorporate cycling and other exercise activities into our daily lives to stay healthy and active for many years. Includes three balanced exercise programs.
  2. Off-Season Conditioning Past 50. How to best work on your off-season conditioning given the physiological changes of aging. Includes two 12-week programs.
  3. Healthy Nutrition Past 50. What to eat and drink to support both a healthy lifestyle and continuing performance.
  4. Performance Cycling Past 50. How to train to achieve more specific cycling goals given the physiological changes of aging.
Cycling Past 60. A 2-article bundle of 47 pages for just $8.98, a 10% discount from RoadBikeRider.com. The bundle includes:
  1. Cycling Past 60, Part 1: For Health. If you exercise correctly, you can slow the effects of aging; if you exercise incorrectly, you can speed up aging. Includes three well-balanced exercise programs.
  2. Cycling Past 60, Part 2: For Recreation. Builds on the information in Part 1and uses the concept of “Athletic Maturity” to design six more rigorous programs for more athletically mature riders.