CYCLING PERFORMANCE TIPS
Yes, exercise can blunt the physical effects of aging. It has been estimated that 30% of all deaths from heart disease, diabetes, and colon cancer are related to inadequate physical activity. And even though we have data that supports the benefits of exercise, one study indicated that no more than 20% (and more likely less than 10%) of adults in the US obtain sufficient regular physical activity to have a measurable impact on their health and fitness levels.
And how about the effects of aging on the athlete? Several quotes from a well written web article make the key points:
But don't despair. Aging does give us perspective and enjoyment beyond charging up the hills and racing to the next power pole. I think the author says it very well. "I'm enjoying riding and racing more than ever before. I'm still mixing it up in the club hammer sessions. I'm riding on much nicer equipment now than what was available (or what I could afford as a poor starving grad student). I get to share my joy of cycling with our two boys, and I have the perspective of enjoying cycling as a lifelong activity that the young 'uns just don't have."
EFFECTS OF AGING ON PHYSIOLOGIC FUNCTION
Physiologic and performance measures peak in the late teens and 20s, and then decline with age. However they do not all decline at the same rate, and the rates of deterioration vary according to lifestyle (the old use it or lose it philosophy).
a) Bones (osteoporosis)
Aging is accompanied by a loss of bone mineral content. Aside from using calcium supplements to minimize bone loss, there is no support for a role of diet in preventing this natural process. On the other hand, there is excellent evidence on the benefits of regular physical activity to maintain muscle and bone structure.
b) Muscular strength
Strength levels for men and women are at their peak between the ages of 20 and 30. Without a regular exercise program, there is then a decrease in muscle mass from muscle fiber atrophy hat becomes particularly apparent at age 60 . However, this is a combination of aging effects on the muscle/ nerve unit AND a decrease in daily muscle loading. One study of men between the ages of 60 and 72 years, training with standard muscle resistance exercises, demonstrated an improvement rate equal to young adults. Another group of 70 year olds who had regularly trained from age 50, had a muscle cross sectional area equivalent to a group of 28 year old students.
c) Neural function
Reflexes do slow with age, but as with muscular strength, activity minimizes the effects. Active men in their 70s had reaction times equivalent to inactive men in their 20s.
d) Pulmonary function
Once again, there is a decrease in lung function with age that can be blunted with regular activity. These studies indicate that a lifetime of regular physical activity may retard the decline in pulmonary function associated with aging.
e) Cardiovascular function
MORE ON OVERALL HEALTH BENEFITS
Ben Franklin once said that the only constants in this world were death and taxes. The negative effects of aging on physical performance should probably be added to this list. However numerous studies have demonstrated the dramatic effect a regular exercise program (riding three to four times a week) can have on blunting the inevitable changes.
And the training effect is so effective that the aging process may be held at bay for up to a decade or more. In fact, for any age group regular riders are 150% less like to die from all causes.
NUTRITION IN THE OLDER ATHLETE
Although there is a trend towards an increased percentage of body fat after age 30, there is good evidence that a resistance training program will minimize the loss of muscle mass, and good eating habits and self awareness will prevent weight gain.
There are no special dietary needs for older athletes. However there is less "physiologic forgiveness" or latitude to skip the pre-event carbohydrate meal, and an increased sensitivity to major fluid shifts from sweating and inadequate replacement. But aside from this decreased tolerance for physiologic abuse, the general principles of nutrition are exactly the same for all age groups including vitamin, mineral, and electrolyte replacement as well as the use of ergogenic aids such as diet supplements and unusual food products.
STRATEGIES TO STAY AHEAD OF THE CURVE
Is it safe to exercise as you age? If one uses common sense, the long term health benefits far outweigh any potential cardiac complications. One should avoid the extremes such as exercising above and beyond the level you have trained for, environmental extremes of temperature and humidity, and exercising when not feeling well. But even orthopedic injuries, which might be expected to be more common in the older athlete, do not appear to be increased with activities of moderate intensity and duration.
A.If you don't stress the CV system, you will lose aerobic capacity over time. But you can minimize that loss by regular riding - and by pushing yourself. I would consider doing intervals once or twice a week as one part of a program (if you are not now). And that means getting your heart rate up into Zone 4 for you. As to the knees, make sure you have a good fit on the bike, pedals (if you have clips) with good play (like frogs/speedplay), and then keep that RPM between 90 and 100. Don't lug on the hills, or spin too fast - it plays havoc with the knees.
Q. I am 69 years old, female. I ride about 130 miles a week and am working on interval training and sprinting to get stronger and faster. I ride a minimum of 20 miles a day. I have osteoarthritis in my back and hands. I don't take anything for the osteoarthritis and find that cycling is my key to living with OA and hopefully preventing it from getting worse. Today, I did 4 intervals of 1/2 mile. From a dead start, I was able to ride 18.8 on the 2nd interval and 18.7 on the 4th. My goal is to ride the 5K and 10K in the Senior Games in October at 18 mph. On a dead start, I can sprint up to 23 mph in the first few seconds, but it poops me out quicker and I ride slower, on the 1/2 mile interval, i.e., 17.7. My question involves maximum heart rate. I have noticed that my heart rate number is going higher, before I get exhausted, than a couple of months ago.
A.This question suggested that you may have fallen into a deadly trap in training, the "if a little is good, a lot is better" approach. It is really important to warm up before you do the intervals. If you are not doing so (5 miles or so at a modest pace) you risk injury and, as the CV system is not yet into its rhythm, you won't get maximum benefit from the intervals before feeling fatigued.
I don't see any advantage to a 23 MPH sprint for a few seconds - the whole interval should be at a steady pace you pick. If you can't hold 23 for the full interval, either decrease the interval duration or the speed.
It is really important to take off a few days a week off the bike. I'm not sure what to say about "your MHR going higher" but it is possible this is a sign of overtraining, not ideal training.
And finally, I did get the following question which raises a point I'd like to reemphasize:
Q.It seems your website is mostly designed for much stronger riders than I. Perhaps, you will see the benefit of gearing part of it to someone on my level, although there is a really small percentage of women my age, who have the drive to "push their limits." Presently, I know only one other female with that drive.
A.As to age, if you key your training to your personal max heart rate (less as you age) the general approach to a training program (how you divide up the rides during a week)should be age independent.