Researchers at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, have found that cycling can reverse the declining ability of our cells to generate energy. They recommend regular high intensity intervals for this, ideally combined with weight training.
The study, reported in the journal Cell Metabolism, involved two groups of volunteers – one aged 18-30 and the other 65-80.
For 12 weeks, both groups were subjected to three different exercise regimes: cycling intervals, strength training with weights, and a combination of the two.
The interval training consisted of three days a week of intervals on an indoor trainer and two days a week walking on a motorised treadmill.
The cycling interval protocol was a 10-minute warm-up followed by four cycles of four-minute intervals at greater than 90% of peak aerobic capacity with three-minute rests (no pedalling load) plus a five-minute cool down.
The treadmill protocol was a self-selected walking pace (2-4 mph) with a 10-minute warm-up, 45 minutes at incline at 70% peak aerobic capacity and then a five-minute cool down.
“Mitochondrial capacity declines with age, affecting many vital cellular functions,” explained senior author Dr Sreekumaran Nair.
The researchers found that high intensity interval training boosted the ability of the mitochondria within cells to generate energy by 69 per cent in older volunteers, and by 49 per cent in a younger group.
Nair said that resistance training proved more effective at improving muscle strength, which also declines with age, and said a combination of the two approaches — three or four days of interval training followed by a couple of days of strength work — appeared to offer the best rewards.
“But if people have to pick one exercise, I would recommend high-intensity interval training,” he added.
In 2015, a group of researchers from King’s College London and the University of Birmingham found that a group of cyclists over the age of 55 had levels of physiological function that would place them at a much younger age compared to the general population.
The aim of the study was to find out whether it was possible to determine someone's age from a range of physiological measurements.
Senior author Professor Stephen Harridge said that because, “our genetic inheritance stems from a period when high levels of physical activity were the likely norm, being physically active should be considered to play an essential role in maintaining health and wellbeing throughout life.”