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Cycling in your 80s can mean having the immune system of a 20-year-old

"If exercise was a pill, everyone would be taking it"...

Add it to the list: cycling also helps rejuvenate your immune system, according to a recent study.

The BBC reports on research published in the journal Aging Cell which found that some long distance cyclists in their 80s had the immune systems of 20-year-olds.

A separate study, published in the same journal, found that cyclists preserved muscle mass and strength with age while maintaining stable levels of body fat and cholesterol.

Professor Norman Lazarus, 82, of King's College London, who took part in and co-authored the research, said: "If exercise was a pill, everyone would be taking it. It has wide-ranging benefits for the body, the mind, for our muscles and our immune system."

Cycling 'slows ageing' – study

The immune system study followed 125 amateur cyclists over the age of 55 and compared them with healthy adults from a wide age group who did not exercise regularly. The latter group comprised 75 healthy people aged 57 to 80, and 55 young adults aged 20 to 36.

The male cyclists had to be able to cycle 100km in under 6.5 hours while women had to cover 60km in 5.5 hours.

An organ called the thymus makes immune cells called T-cells. While it normally starts to shrink from the age of 20, the thymuses of older cyclists were found to be generating as many T-cells as those of young individuals and far more than inactive people of a similar age.

Professor Janet Lord, director of the Institute of Inflammation and Ageing, at the University of Birmingham, and co-author of the research, said: "The immune system declines by about 2-3% a year from our 20s, which is why older people are more susceptible to infections, conditions like rheumatoid arthritis and, potentially, cancer.

"Because the 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."

She added: "Our research means we now have strong evidence that encouraging people to commit to regular exercise throughout their lives is a viable solution to the problem that we are living longer but not healthier."

Professor Stephen Harridge, director of the Centre of Human and Aerospace Physiological Sciences at King's College London, commented: "The findings emphasise the fact that the cyclists do not exercise because they are healthy, but that they are healthy because they have been exercising for such a large proportion of their lives.

"Their bodies have been allowed to age optimally, free from the problems usually caused by inactivity. Remove the activity and their health would likely deteriorate."

Alex has written for more cricket publications than the rest of the team combined. Despite the apparent evidence of this picture, he doesn't especially like cake.

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