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As I approach my mid-50's, I'm looking forward to a few more decades of cycling if all goes well. How can one avoid and/or mitigate age related issues in order to maintain cycling fitness?

I've thought a lot about this and already engage in several practices. I'm sure that I can always learn more.

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This question could also apply for some younger folks -- I have some calcium loss in my bones, what most folks have about 10 years on from where I am, so I'm interested in how to prevent broken bones. –  Neil Fein Sep 21 '10 at 5:17
    
This is a list question, and probably should be closed. –  Neil Fein Apr 26 '12 at 20:33
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Yes, I can see the comment as well as you can. But things have changed since then, as have my opinions. Also see The Future of Community Wiki. –  Neil Fein Apr 26 '12 at 21:05
    
(This could also be made better with some editing. Rather than asking for tips and tricks, the question could simply ask "How do I avoid...".) –  Neil Fein Apr 26 '12 at 21:07
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Duly edited per request –  user313 Apr 26 '12 at 21:17
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4 Answers

Just to get started with a couple of things I already do.

  1. Strength training with some emphasis on lower body. Since cycling is not a weight bearing exercise, older cyclists are at a greater risk for pelvic, hip and leg fractures.

  2. An advanced dynamic flexibility routine in order to maintain mobility, coordination and balance.

Update As noted by darkcanuck's comment below, cycling as a cause of bone loss may very well be incorrect. In the article, Dr. Mirkin advocates vitamin D supplementation to prevent bone loss, and I've also read other sources recommending the same thing. So, probably a good idea especially for those in Northern climes.

As for strength training, I have other reasons for how it's been beneficial for cycling as I get older.

  • One is that a few years ago I was experiencing considerable neck/shoulder pain on long rides. At the time I was spending long hours at the computer and cycling was my dominant physical activity. I came to the conclusion that my neck/shoulder issues were posture related and so developed a strength and flexibility program to correct my posture. In doing that I have been able to eliminate the pain and now ride comfortably on long rides.
  • Another issue that developed a year or so ago was knee pain. After seeing my doc and a physical therapist, I was prescribed a new 'hip' focused addition to my strength routine. Apparently I had some muscular imbalances related to cycling. Since starting this new routine 6 months ago, the knee issues are significantly improved.

For further info on strength training for older, and even younger cyclists, here's an article from Velonews.

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Strength training is probably a good idea anyway, but it's a myth that cycling causes bone loss: drmirkin.com/public/ezine091210.html –  darkcanuck Sep 16 '10 at 3:47
    
@darkcanuck - Dr Mirking is right about a lot of things, but there are several recent studies reviewed on PubMed that indicate otherwise regarding bone density in cyclists. The jury is still out. –  user313 Sep 16 '10 at 4:11
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I'm not sure what kind of cycling you do. But, a mountain biker mentioned to me that more suspension is appreciated more as you get older.

Some seat post suspension might help. The reviews for this are great, but it's a bit pricey:

http://www.bikeradar.com/gear/category/components/seat-post-seat-pin/product/thudbuster-lt-10308

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Good suggestion. I'm more of a road biker though, so don't really see suspension in the cards for myself. A good tip for commuters and mtn bikers though. –  user313 Oct 6 '10 at 3:48
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This is an old question of mine from the early days of bicycles.stackexchange, and I never really felt that there was an optimal answer. So, here's another shot at it.

A couple of recent tweets by Joe Friel... (FYI - Joe Friel is an endurance sports coach best known as an elite triathlon and cycling coach as well as the author of several books on endurance sports.)

  • "As you age the more important workout intensity and strength training become. Unfortunately, most aging athletes do the opposite."
  • "What we call “aging” is really a sign of disuse & misuse. Most people age much too quickly. Exercise & nutrition are the keys."

I did a bit of searching on Friel's site and found an excellent article that pretty explicitly answers my original question. To paraphrase and summarize, here are the key factors that the aging cyclist (athlete) needs to be mindful of:

  • Workout Intensity - As one ages, there is a tendency to increase workout duration and reduce intensity. It is beneficial to workout at relatively high intensity levels with the emphasis on muscular endurance, anaerobic endurance and sprint power. Higher intensity reduces workout time and helps maintain muscle mass.
  • Strength Training - There is considerable research indicating that strength training is highly beneficial to the maintenance of bone density and muscle mass.
  • Sleep - As one ages, the recovery time from exertion increases. Good sleep and rest are vital to allow the body to recover from physical stress and exertion.
  • Nutrition - Quality nutrition is key, featuring micronutrient rich fruits, vegetables, and animal protein. Additionally, consuming sugars during a long, intense workout; and starch for recovery following the workout.

And to finish off, here's a quote from Middle Age: A Natural History by David Bainbridge,

The average man's body fat rises from 23 per cent to 29 per cent over the fifth and sixth decades of his life, while women's will reach 38 per cent.

So, keep on riding.

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I would have some nits to pick with Friel's statements. One does most definitely lose muscle and nerve cells as a result of aging, at a fairly predictable rate. Nutrition (notably semi-starvation) can reduce the rate of loss somewhat but will not prevent it. –  Daniel R Hicks Apr 27 '12 at 1:22
    
@Daniel - Joe Friel has numerous articles regarding nutrition on his blog. Comments are allowed there. –  user313 Apr 27 '12 at 1:47
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I can add one thing: It is possible to exercise a muscle beyond it's metabolic capacity and cause serious muscle injury as a result. This happens with non-trivial frequency in sports "boot camp" environments where the participants will be run ragged all day with insufficient food, then subjected to, eg, intense squatting exercises.

Surprisingly, muscles do not expend energy when they contract, but rather the energy is expended when the muscles "reset". If the muscles contract and then it turns out that there is not enough available glucose, et al, to reset them, the muscle cells "depolarize" and die.

In the "boot camp" scenario this results in intense muscle pain in the major muscles of the legs, followed by "rhabdomyolysis" -- the breakdown of muscle -- and "myoblobinuria" -- the excretion of the breakdown products in the urine (seen as a rust-colored sediment -- myoglobin -- in the urine).

In young, healty people there is generally enough "reserve" muscle that, though this injury is effectively permanent, it does not result in any noticeable disability. (However, the myoglobinuria can result in serious kidney damage, and there is a secondary condition where the damaged muscles of the leg swell up and constrict that can also be quite serious.)

In older people, however, especially those on statin drugs and some diabetes meds, the resulting injury itself can be significant and life changing, especially if repeated several times.

The injury is most apt to occur in situations such as a relatively long, intense climb near the end of several hours of cycling, but can occur in shorter episodes of intense energy expenditure. The symptom will be a "muscle pull" type pain that doesn't appear until about 36 hours after the exercise (in fact, long enough removed that the individual may not associate the pain with the prior activity). And, where a regular "muscle pull" usually clears up in 3-6 weeks, the rhabdo injury remains painful for 3-6 months.

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