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Preventing Disease with Habits of Healthy Motion

A study authored by researchers from the King’s College London and the Institute of Inflammation and Ageing recently studied the immune systems of long-distance cyclists, some as old as 70 or 80.

Here’s what Prof. Janet Lord, one of the study’s authors, told the BBC: “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.”

That decline is the usual trend, but the study found that the older cyclists had the immune system performance of people far younger. These 70 and 80-year-old cyclists had immune system’s on par with 20-year-olds.

Prof. Lord continued: “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.”

Isn’t that exciting?

This is another piece of research that strongly suggests that what we traditionally think as the consequences of aging are not necessarily inevitable. If we embrace Habits of Health, we can potentially enhance our longevity and prevent disease. The rewards are not only a more vibrant and active lifestyle as we age but we also get more time to create beautiful memories with our loved ones.

This particular study looked at 125 cyclists, which is larger than some sample sizes but not as large as more comprehensive and concretely conclusive studies. I point that out now before you run out to take up long-distance cycling (though you should if it interests you!) because there are likely multiple factors at play in this group, and all of those factors are actually good news for you.

Those factors include:

  • Long distance cycling is a lifestyle for this group, which means that they are generally active individuals (one 64-year-old in the BBC article said he averages 100 miles a week on his bike). The rewards this study identified are likely the rewards of staying active in general rather than preparing for a specific race.
  • On the same token, staying this active on a regular basis likely makes healthier eating mandatory. If cycling is your passion, you may be more inclined to eat healthier foods to make your rides more fun and more productive. This study didn’t talk about this Habit of Health, but it’s probably a factor.
  • In the same BBC article cited earlier, one of the 79-year-old cyclists mentioned that she enjoyed the social aspects of cycling, which is incredibly important and often overlooked in studies like this. The physical activity is important, but having relationships and friendships with a generally healthy community lead to big benefits in longevity.
  • Having the immune system of a 20-year-old does not have to mean performing with the intensity of a 20-year-old. When the BBC went out to meet these cyclists, many of them said that even though their club organizes 186-mile events, they typically do the relatively shorter 62-mile events.

Again, you don’t need to run out and buy a long-distance bicycle to reap these rewards. The biggest lesson we can learn from this is that maintaining an active lifestyle comes with a wealth of benefits. Cycling in itself is not a magical key to a longer life but rather it is the sum of the Habits of Health that we see in this group that lead to such vibrant differences. You can build those Habits of Health into a range of healthy activities, so go out there and find one that is engaging and enjoyable for you!

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