A study published Tuesday in the medical journal Cell Metabolism shows that cycling three times a week in short, high-intensity bursts for a total of 48 minutes can greatly help reduce the effects of aging at a cellular level in the elderly by boosting energy and reducing frailty.
The study, conducted by a group of researchers at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, studied a group of 45 young (ages 18-30) and 27 old (ages 65-80) participants over a 12-week period as the groups engaged in three separate types of exercise regimes: Cycling intervals, strength training with weights and a combination of the two.
Following the exercise programs, the researchers measured maximal mitochondrial respiration capabilities in the participants at a cellular level. Put simply, mitochondrial respiration capability is how efficiently mitochondria (the powerhouses of the cell) can produce energy in a human being.
Reductions in maximal mitochondrial respiratory capability has been shown to increase frailty and the risk of developing aging-related diseases. In short, you want your mitochondria to be performing at their peak capacity for as long as possible.
For the high-intensity cycling interval training, three times a week the subjects engaged in four sets of cycling on a machine at or above 90 percent of the maximum heart rate they were able to achieve over a five-minute control session.
In between each four-minute cycling session, the subjects took a three-minute break, meaning they cycled — at maximum capacity — 16 minutes a day three times a week.
The results were staggering: Through less than 50 minutes of intense cycling weekly, the young group increased their mitochondrial respiration capabilities by 49 percent while the older group saw their mitochondrial respiration capabilities jump an astounding 69 percent.
Interestingly enough, resistance training showed no increase in mitochondrial respiration capabilities, while the combination training showed lessened effectivity.
“Mitochondrial capacity declines with age, affecting many vital cellular functions,” senior author Dr. Sreekumaran Nair told Road.cc. “If people have to pick one exercise, I would recommend high-intensity [cycling] interval training.”
“Based on everything we know, there’s no substitute for these exercise programs when it comes to delaying the aging process,” Nair said to the Daily Mail. “These things we are seeing cannot be done by any medicine.”
So does that mean that you can simply ride a bike 48 minutes a week, do nothing else, and it will help stave off the effects of aging? Not quite: Outside of the cycling, the researchers also had participants walk for 45 minutes twice a week to supplement the time of the bike machine.
All of which is to say, if you want to stay feeling young longer, get on a bike and go for a walk every now and then.