Chris Froome’s spectacular performance in the Giro d’Italia attracted an audience that has never before been remotely interested in cycling. Froome’s 80km solo break in Stage 19 enabled him to snatch back victory after three weeks of injury. In the end he beat the 2017 champion Tom Dumoulin by 46 seconds to win his first Grand Tour of Italy.
When you read the race reports about how the Sky team needed to get 90 grams of carbs into Chris Froome every hour, plus consider how to manage his water intake without his having to carry a 500g water bottle, you realise that cycling is a great deal more technical than you ever imagined. At least I never thought it was that complex: I thought you pedalled like mad and then stopped for refreshments. You can tell I’m not a cyclist.
Cycling is the ‘fountain of youth’
But, perhaps I should be, because according to a BBC News report, cycling is the “fountain of youth”, or the new anti-ageing pill. Back in March, the BBC News at Ten featured Professor Norman Lazarus, a keen long-distance cyclist. Norman is 82, but has the immune system of a 20-year-old.
He’s also a professor at King’s College London and the co-author of a research paper on the positive effects of exercise on the ageing process. The research study, published in Aging Cell, tracked 125 long-distance cyclists, some of whom, like Professor Lazarus are now in their 80s. The results showed that all they have “the immune systems and body-fat levels of teenagers.”
Professor Janet Lord, Director of the Institute of Inflammation and Ageing at the University of Birmingham, and co-author of the research, told the BBC: “The immune system declines by about 2-3 percent a year from our 20s, which is why older people are more susceptible to infections, conditions like rheumatoid arthritis and, potentially, cancer.”
Essentially, she says, and Professor Lazarus is living proof of the research results, “Because cyclists have the immune system of a 20-year-old rather than a 70- or 80-year-old, it means they have added protection against all these issues.”
You’ll retain greater muscle mass
This is not the only piece of research into the anti-ageing effects of cycling. Another study in Aging Cell revealed that cycling protects us from losing muscle mass or strength and prevents an increase in body fat. To back this up, the BBC News item, presented by its medical correspondent, Fergus Walsh, showed a scan of Professor Lazarus’ thigh beside that of a sedentary man of the same age and it was perfectly clear that the Professor had a much greater muscle mass.
The BBC’s Walsh talked to other cyclists in the same cycling club as Lazarus, Audax – the Long Distance Cyclists’ Association.
Pam Jones aged 79 told Walsh: “I do it for my health, because it’s sociable, and because I enjoy the freedom it gives you.”
Jim Woods, at 64 one of the club’s younger members said he does it “for a sense of wellbeing and to enjoy our wonderful countryside.”
Brian Matkins, 82, gleefully told Walsh, “One of the first results I got from the medical study was that my body fat was comparable to that of a 19-year-old!”
With the Tour de France starting on 7th July this year, perhaps it is time to glean some inspiration from Chris Froome, Team Sky and all the other competitors. But more importantly, we should remember Professor Norman Lazarus and his teenage immune system. ‘On yer bike’ could suddenly start to have a very different meaning.