It is a well known fact that keeping physically active helps in delaying the loss of muscle as we grow older, however many people still don't apply this knowledge into their own life, whether it be because of time constraints, responsibilities or life simply getting in the way. Many people think it's inevitable that around a certain age (say over 70) it will become much more difficult for them to perform tasks that they used to take for granted, such as showering, walking long distances or even a short jog regardless of how active they are. The problem with this belief is that it is based on a looking at a very sedentary older population, being an estimated 10 percent of people over 65 work out regularly. This means many people approaching or already at an older age may give up on being active, believing that they're destined for the same level of fitness as everybody else in the future, however this is simply not true.

Two newly published studies on elderly recreational cyclists give more encouraging evidence that our current beliefs on ageing are outdated and the person themselves has a lot of choice on how fit they are once growing old. The only thing that's thought to be common about the ageing process from person to person is that time adds up at the same pace for all of us, but our bodies' response to it varies. These variations recently urged a group of British scientists to explore whether our beliefs on what is natural and inevitable with physical ageing is incomplete or incorrect, also if we are ignoring the role of exercise.

To test this, they decided to find a group of older men and women who had stayed physically active while ageing and these people were local recreational cyclists. The group of male and female riders they managed to gather were between the ages of 55 and 79, had been cycling for decades and still pedalled about 400 miles per month. None of them were competitive athletes.

The study (published in 2014) measured a broad range of the cyclists' cognitive and physical capabilities and compared them to both sedentary older people and much younger men and women. The cyclists had memories, reflexes, balance and metabolic profiles more similar to 30 year olds than the sedentary older group. This was a great study but it left many unanswered questions.

Two newly published studies in the journal "Aging Cell" focused on muscles and T cells (part of our immune system that helps us fight off infections). They studied the biopsied muscle tissue from 90 of the riders and looked for markers that help determine muscle health and function, they found that the muscles of riders in their 70s resembled that of those in their 50s, so the scientists figured that it was their physical activity that slowed the normal rate of muscular decline.

Scientists also looked at their immune systems, drawing blood from them, a group of younger adults and a group of sedentary older adults. Analysing the information they got from this, it was obvious that the cyclists were not the same as the other two groups, they were healthier and biologically younger. Their muscles maintained size, fibre composition and other markers of good health throughout the decades and those covering the longest distance having the healthiest muscles regardless of their age.

Looking at the immune system of older sedentary people, the output of T cells from their Thymus gland was very low when compared to the younger group, however the cyclists had almost as many T cells in their blood as the young people did. Those who exercise also showed high levels of other immune cells that help counter autoimmune reactions.

Of course the older cyclists' immune systems weren't completely resistant to ageing, many of their T cells had become feeble and unlikely to fight infections as well as the younger group. 

The message to take from these studies is that what was thought of as an unavoidable part of ageing can be prevented.

Exercise isn't all about long term benefits though, some residents at William Lench Court (our Scheme in Quinton) have began a regular exercise routine at the on-site gym and have made great progress while having fun doing it! Click here to see some of the residents currently using the gym. If you, or someone you know lives at William Lench Court (our Scheme in Quinton) and are interested in trying the gym, please get in touch with Scheme Manager, Jayne at the reception (0121 426 0455) and ask for more details.