A study of the cognitive and psychological effects of outdoor cycling finds equal results for normal bikes and e-bikes
One of my favorite cycling controversies was the rumor—complete with Zapruder-style video analysis—that Fabian Cancellara used a hidden electric motor in his bike to surge away to victory in the 2010 Tour of Flanders. These days, cycling authorities deploy mobile X-rays and thermal imaging to screen bikes at major races, and last year a French amateur rider was sentenced to 60 hours of community service after being caught for “mechanical doping.” But outside of racing, electric bikes, a new study reminds us, also have a much more positive side.
The study, from researchers at Reading and Oxford Brookes universities in Britain, looks at cognitive function and psychological well-being in adults over the age of 50. The grim truth is that cognitive function tends to decline as we get older, and that’s often associated with declines in well-being. But the encouraging caveat is that these declines are far less inevitable than we used to think, and there are two simple tactics that can fight against them: being active, and getting outside.
In PLoS ONE, the researchers report on a study that deployed both these tactics together. Instead of studying exercise in the stultifying environment of the lab, they sent their volunteers out in the world on bikes. Of 100 subjects between the ages of 50 and 83, 36 received normal bikes, 38 received Raleigh Motus e-bikes, and 26 were in the non-cycling control group. None were in the habit of cycling when the study started, and they were asked to do at least 30 minutes of biking three times a week, on their own, for eight weeks. Before and after the study, they completed a series of cognitive tests and psychological questionnaires.
The main hypothesis was that this relatively modest amount of biking would be sufficient to boost cognitive function, particularly a subset known as executive function that enables you to plan, organize, and complete tasks. The results generally supported this hypothesis, though the effect wasn’t as strong and uniform as expected. In several tests of executive function, both the cycling groups saw significant improvement relative to the control group. This isn’t a big shocker given previous research, but it’s nice to see that even something as mild as noodling around on a bike at your own pace for half an hour a few times a week produces a measurable effect.
Read the full article here
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