For healthy joints, choose cycling

December 15, 2017

Your joints beg you to take up this low-impact exercise

For seniors, participating in a new physical activity can help improve heart health and slow down the body’s aging process. According to William Anderson, M.D., physical medicine and rehabilitation specialist at Swedish, “The New Year is a perfect time to put cardiovascular exercise on your radar as a resolution. Cycling is a wonderful, low-impact activity that many seniors can benefit from and use maintain their health as they age,” he says. 

He continues, “Cardio builds increased endurance – necessary for long walks, short runs and climbing stairs. Older people are generally more likely to be inactive, and this can lead to difficulty performing their daily routines. Chores like cleaning and even dressing become uncomfortable. Adding any exercise regimen, especially cardio, not only improves joint health but decreases blood pressure and heart rate. It also improves the control of blood sugar and cholesterol.”

“Old age has often been associated with stress and feelings of loneliness,” says Dr. Anderson. “Cardiovascular exercise helps boost mood and improve stress management and sleep quality.”

Essentially, exercise can make you feel young. Anderson explains, “As we grow older, exercise can help counter some of the effects of aging. Maintaining joint mobility is important as we age, especially in the setting of degenerative arthritis. To keep our joints healthy, we need to continue moving them through a full range of motion. We also need exercise to keep the muscles around our joints strong. Exercise plays a crucial role in our ability to remain functional and independent as we age.”

Benefits of cycling

“I often encourage my patients to pick up cycling because it is a very easy and enjoyable way to bring cardio back into their daily lives,” recommends Anderson. “It’s relatively low-impact compared to long distance running – a high-impact option that often results in joint pain and injury if you’re heavyset or arthritic.”

Anderson goes on to say, “Really, anyone can pick up cycling. In addition to being a great option for exercise, it is also a great alternative to driving, and may even be a feasible commuting option for some. I would caution, however, that anyone with a history of cardiovascular disease should speak with their physician in case they need to take any precautions. Cycling may also present challenges for individuals with chronic back pain or cervical spine arthritis, as these symptoms might be aggravated when in a sitting position, or when the neck is held in an extended position.”

Get started with cycling

According to AARP, older adults are the fastest growing group of cyclists, with the majority of cyclists over the age of 50.

Tune up

“Before hitting the road, get your bike serviced,” suggests Anderson. “You’ll want to ensure that your bike is the right size and frame for your body and that the seat is comfortable. If you don’t have a bike, now is a perfect time to choose one made just for you and your lifestyle. Think about what kind of terrain you’re going to ride on, and if your bike can be fitted or customized to allow for any physical limitations you might have.”

Start slow

“If you’re just getting back into the swing of things, start your exercise regimen slowly and work your way up to longer rides,” advises Dr. Anderson. “Allow sufficient time for recovery between rides, and avoid increasing distance or intensity of rides too abruptly, as this may put you at risk of injury.”

Get biking gear

“Cycling shorts are important to protect against chafing and provide a cushion for pressure points,” says Anderson. “You should also stock up on clothing appropriate for the weather. Cycling gloves help relieve pressure over nerves and any bones that are prominent in your hands or wrists.”

Ensure safety

“Proper safety equipment is also a must,” Dr. Anderson says. “The importance of a quality helmet cannot be understated. Check to see if your headlights and taillights are functioning properly and whenever possible, wear reflective clothing. If you are planning on longer-distance rides, it pays to carry a spare inner tube and hand pump.”
Anderson shares, “There are many benefits of cycling for seniors, let alone exercise. From weight control and reducing the risk of heart disease to maintaining strength and independence or even boosting self-esteem and one’s overall sense of well-being, exercise in any form is about finding something you enjoy and sticking to it.”

If you’re ready to spin into the New Year, the providers at Swedish Spine, Sports and Musculoskeletal Medicine can help provide you with expert information about joint pain and how to improve your overall health through cycling and other cardio activities.