Hey Cyclist, Bike Riding Helps You Age Better.

Probably.

Maybe.

Sort of.

Not sure, but there was an interesting study.

A big frustration of news stories that tout some breakthrough health find is that many of the studies behind the stories are less than the hype.

Monday morning, I heard such a story on NPR about cyclists being healthier in old age than other folks in their age cohort. It sounded great.

AUBREY: Turns out the cyclists’ muscle mass was better compared to those who did not exercise regularly. Maybe not too surprising. And their hearts appeared healthier, too. You could probably find the same results in other avid exercisers. Lord says the big surprise was how the decades of exercise seemed to influence the immune system.

LORD: We found that aspects of their immune system were also like that of a 20-year-old.

The first two parts have already been explored–muscle mass and healthier hearts have been found in exercising old folks for years.  it’s the immune system finding that’s new.

Inevitably there’s a catch. Often, the catch is that the sample size is so small as to be worthless.   The NY Times and other reputable news outlets too often report what they purport are big solutions on studies that have sample sizes in the low two digits. Here, the study was a good bit larger. 125 cyclists, male and female, varying in age between 55-79.

The study is now making the rounds. Here. And here.  And here. And getting into the cycling media, of course.

The biggest catch is that they didn’t check to see if that allegedly improved immune system made a difference.

AUBREY: The researchers didn’t actually track how these cyclists responded to infections. Lord says they’d like to look at that in a follow-up study. And she says not all aspects of immune function were better among the bikers. So clearly it’s not a panacea,

Clearly.

They don’t even know if it’s cycling that’s the difference, or exercise, or random. Or that you have to have a lifetime of cycling or exercise or luck for this to occur.

Yet it feels pretty good to think that when I’m 70, if I’m riding up to 60 miles a week, I’ll have the immune system of a 20 year old, whether or not it matters.

Unless I ride too much. Or my sex life is ruined by my saddle.

The study is in the Journal of Physiology. A link to it is here.

 

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