Cycling would not only maintain good physical and mental health, it would also protect our immunity. A British study shows that 75-year-old cyclists, who had been cycling for most of their lives, had an immune profile similar to that of 20-year-olds.
Cycling regularly would slow the aging of the immune system. This is the conclusion of a British study published in the review Aging Cell. At the end of their work, the researchers managed to show that 75-year-old cyclists had an immune profile similar to that of 20-year-olds.
The researchers studied a group of 125 adults, aged 55 to 79, two-thirds of whom were men, who had cycled for most of their lives and still practiced it for two and a half hours a week. None of them were smokers, heavy consumers of alcohol or suffering from hypertension. This group of cyclists was compared to two others, a group of adults of similar age, and a group of young adults (20 to 36 years old), healthy but not athletic.
The scientists focused their research on the thymus, a gland whose function is to ensure the maturation of T cells, a type of white blood cell. The thymus plays a vital role in maintaining our immune system, but as organ, it atrophies with age. The researchers found that T-cells were as numerous among the older cyclists as they were in the younger group, and more numerous than in the non-sporting group.
“The immune system starts to get weaker by the twenties, which is why older people are more susceptible to diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis and, potentially, cancer,” says Professor Janet Lord, director of the Institute of Inflammation and Ageing at the University of Birmingham (UK), and coauthor of the study. This means that these cyclists have extra protection against all these problems.
These good results, however, are qualified by the authors themselves, who recall that the data collected for physical activity are simply declarative, or that the total number of immune cells was not taken into account. “The number of lymphocytes decreasing with age, it is possible that the differences noted between young and old subjects are overestimated,” Hugo Aguilaniu, director of research at the French CNRS, who notes however that the decrease in the number of lymphocytes is less marked in cyclists.
Nonetheless, these results are of great importance. Cycling, an activity that uses endurance, also offer other great health benefits, especially for older people.