Riding bikes when over 50 years old (or 40) is a significant endeavor since biking is considered by many as the fountain of youth. Often, riders feel and look 10 years younger than folks their age. And just as significant is it’s a form of exercise and lifestyle that is fun and sustainable for the next few decades.
Here are five best tips how to do it well in a safe manner that maximizes fun:
Perhaps the greatest thing you can do when not on the bike is to stretch, get proper nutrition, and rest. Flexibility is key for this activity as a limber body will help you ride fluidly. And in an event of a fall or unplanned step-off, one’s flexibility will be key to preventing injury. Stretching is absolutely helpful in preventing injury and developing tightness, cramps during strenuous activity. Start slow and build up to it. Yoga is a revelation for those that can do it regularly. And it doesn’t have to be a mystery or an expensive endeavor. Youtube is a wonderful tool with many stretching guides specifically for cyclists.
Pick foods that you like — mix in energy bars with real food like bagels, yogurt, and fresh fruits. Many foods contain a mix of carbohydrates, protein, and fat — you’re after calories from carbohydrates. And the key is to focus on quality rather than quality. Remember that the more you ride, the more you can indulge in the foods that you like.
This is an athletic sport and it’s a lot more fun and rewarding if your body is up to the task. Do some cross-training and develop the upper body and your core to get it ready for biking. Pushups, squats, situps are basic strength moves and many mountain biking movements get easier when the body can handle the physical demands.
Yoga is good for balance and building up your core will allow you to maintain balance in most situations. A vital component to middle-aged athletes is building a strong core—think stability, not six-pack abs. Research touts the everyday benefits of strengthening the core, including reduced risk of injury to the lower back, better posture, stability, and balance.
In mountain biking, a stable spine and pelvis are responsible for transmitting power to our extremities, a requirement for all sports. A well-maintained core also promotes powerful, injury-free repetitive movements like pedaling.
Cyclists are, on average, a relatively low-risk population in terms of coronary artery disease because they are less obese, more physically fit. They usually have lower blood pressure, cholesterol than the average person.
But such good health can sometimes mask or hide heart problems that lurk hidden until ready to strike. Usually congenital or developed through wear and tear from a care-free younger lifestyle, one needs to be aware of these issues.
The key is getting regular checkups with the doctor and monitoring all the vitals like blood pressure, cholesterol, and heart rate. But the really CRUCIAL tests are the EKG and the Stress Test. The EKG is easily performed, monitoring that all the electrical signals of the heart are in proper working order. It is best done regularly to establish a baseline of comparison so later anomalies can be more easily detected.
The treadmill stress test is another key ingredient of proper checkups as the athlete ages. This involves running on a treadmill to exhaustion and checking how all the vital functions are performing at the limit. Anyone with a history of heart disease is advised to do this as a middle-aged athlete.
And most important, listen to your body and your heart. Never ignore chest pains, shortness of breath, or anything out of the ordinary during strenuous exercise.
Similar to golf and tennis and skiing, cycling, and mountain biking, in particular, is a skill sport. Some have the gifts and do very well self-taught but most are not so lucky. Most self-taught individuals are doing it wrong and just getting away with bad technique or habits because of trail familiarity.
And if one is starting biking at a later age, it’s a particular disadvantage. The ‘brave’ gene becomes recessive and the older rider does not recover from injury as well, gained through mistakes and learning.
So do it right and get some skills. Of course one can limit oneself to bike paths and fire roads but we know of riders over 60 and 70 that ride at a very high level. And skills don’t necessarily entail high speed or high risk, rather it’s about control and fun.
And don’t be afraid to make an investment and buy a proper new mountain bike. New bikes are better than a decade old mountain bike in at least 10 key aspects so do not cling on to that bike you purchased 20 years ago. The new bikes are not just for speed and style, they are also much, much safer, especially the full suspension bikes. Good full suspension bikes with grippy tires can often save the rider from mistakes or surprises. Also, protective gear like knee pads and chin guards are great options to give the rider the confidence to improve and take on more challenging terrain.
And if you need the pedal assistance of an e-bike to get you up the big hills, the advancement in that arena has been dramatic.
The body cleanses itself of acids and pollutants through activity. So after a big effort, go for an easy spin, walk the dog, or hang out with the younger ones and play.
And do not underestimate the power of a massage to fend off sore stiff muscles the day after a hard ride. And if one can schedule a monthly or weekly massage, that works wonders.
A massage gun or massage chair can work wonders when used regularly. They promote circulation and you can attack the problem areas. Invest, invest since hopefully, you’ll have a little more expendable income in your later years. Any dollar you spend that is preventative and therapeutic will save you so much in medical bills later.
Challenge yourself and go for a personal record, go for it. Middle age presents a great opportunity to shake things up and explore new ways of getting stronger and faster. And even better is to go for the biggest smile ever on your face as a personal record. In the end, the key is to find something meaningful, fun, and active in your life. This will improve your health and happiness in a sustainable way that you can pursue for the next few decades.