Cycling is one of those activities many people choose to take up in retirement, even if they’ve hardly sat on a saddle before.
It offers obvious health benefits - not only physical, mental as well - and can also boost your social life as cyclists often ride in groups, either with friends or as part of an organised club.
Others prefer the solitude of an escape into the wilds, or perhaps the challenge of following a well-ridden route.
You may want to choose quieter routes, and in Cumbria and The Lake District where we are based, there are many rural roads and cycle paths to enjoy.
Some of the most popular cycle routes in Britain are based in our own beautiful county.
Even the roads are largely safe. The main A6 Carlisle-Penrith road passes Scalesceugh Hall & Villas but is wide and not often too busy.
Cycling comes in different formats. Mountain biking is popular in hilly parts like The Lake District but more commonly among younger people.
Road cycling is popular with all ages, and leisurely road cycling even more so, due to the ability to ride flat routes and easily carry provisions in pannier bags put over the back of cycles.
So let’s look at the benefits of cycling, and then some of the routes you could take.
The health benefits of cycling
Regular exercise improves both your physical and mental health, and recent studies in the UK found that cycling just four miles a day can reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke, and lower the risk of type two diabetes.
As we get older, we do get more aches and pains, and these can sometimes put us off doing exercise. But it's the right kind of exercise that will ease those pains and give us extra strength.
Cycling is a low-impact sport, so places very little stress on joints, which makes it an ideal form of exercise in our later years.
It also works your cardiovascular system, which keeps your heart healthy.
You are more likely to push your cardiovascular system a little harder on a bike, when setting off from a still position or tackling hills, for example.
Cycling can slow down the ageing process
That’s some claim, but it’s backed up by medical studies. Scientists in 2018 carried out tests on 125 amateur cyclists aged 55 to 79.
They compared them with healthy adults who didn’t do regular exercise. The cyclists were found to maintain muscle mass and strength as they aged.
But the biggest surprise related to an organ called the thymus. This makes immune cells called T-cells, which normally shrink from the age of 20.
The thymuses of older cyclists were generating as many T-cells as those of young people - in other words, the health of muscle cells, associated with ageing, was not declining. In fact, they were improving.
This led to legitimate claims that cycling was a ‘miracle pill’ that could improve the health of a nation, if not the world.
After all, a study in the Lancet reported that the global toll for inactive lifestyles is 5.3 million people a year, roughly the same as from tobacco.
And a 2017 study found that people who regularly cycled had a lower risk of death, cardiovascular disease and cancer.
How Cycling Improves Brain Health
Scientists found that people who completed 30 minutes on an exercise bike were better able to remember things and use reasoning after their workout.
Good news when you consider it is normal in older age to experience a reduction in memory, reasoning and the speed of processing things in your mind.
Cycling can also help to reduce stress. And cycling outdoors in fresh air and beautiful surroundings can, as you might expect, improve your mood.
While any type of exercise improves blood flow to the brain, cycling is a great way to do this because of its lower impact on the body.
Brain health can be improved, even at an older age, so a leisurely slow cycle is something doctors should really be prescribing!
Scalesceugh Hall & Vilas co-founder, Dr Anita Herdeiro, adds: "Whatever your ability, whether you are an athlete, or trying this exercise after a hip operation, the benefits are great and can be done at various levels and environments. Try what works for you. Remember the most important part is enjoying it and doing it regularly enough to achieve the benefits."
What type of bicycle should you use?
It helps to ride a bike that is in good condition, to minimise the chances of an accident taking place, with the chain falling loose etc.
You may have a bicycle from years back which you would like to ride. Absolutely fine, as long as it isn’t going to fall apart!
Otherwise, shop around and see what type of bike suits you the best - take advice from the staff at cycle stores on size and weight. Modern bicycles might be a lot lighter.
Also, consider using an electric bike but realise that while getting you out into the fresh air and sunshine, it won’t offer the benefits of aerobic exercise through pushing the pedals.
Tricycles also exist for adults, and are a good idea if stability is an issue.
Cycling tips for seniors
Follow the Highway Code - you may not care to accept it but your vision and hearing may not be what they used to be, so watch and listen extra carefully for traffic and obstacles.
Wear a cycle helmet - plus any other accessories you feel you need to stay safe while pedalling.
Where possible, stay on cycle paths - many built-up areas include cycle lanes on pavements or roads.
Look after your bike - regularly check the tyre pressure and keep the chain clean and lubricated.
Take on board more water and carbohydrates than you may have done when you were younger - before you go and along the way if it’s a long journey. It’s good advice to stay hydrated and eat a balanced diet at all times.
Take enough rests and get enough quality sleep - Your body needs looking after more than ever and will perform better when you are not exhausted.
Where to cycle in The Lake District and Cumbria
The National Cycle Network outlines many routes favoured by cyclists, for their terrain, beauty and safety,
Recommended routes close to Scalesceugh Hall & Villas (you can often take your bike by train to starting points further away) include:
A largely flat 24 miles passing marshes, farmland and beautiful beaches designated as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. The route includes part of the Hadrian’s Wall Path and takes in Bowness-on-Solway, where an RSPB nature reserve gives stunning views all around of the Solway Plain.
Following the route of a former rail line, this is a picturesque three miles suitable for all ages, travelling from the lovely market town of Keswick to the village of Threlkeld below the imposing mountain Blencathra.
A 15-mile ride linking the two historic market towns in the stunning Eden Valley. There are bike-friendly pubs to stop at along the way.
You can find more information about Cumbrian routes here.
Tour of Britain returns to Cumbria
If you want to see the world’s top cyclists racing through the region, the good news is that that the Tour of Britain - the UK’s biggest cycle race – will return to Cumbria in September 2021.
The event was cancelled last year as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, however stage six of this year's tour will start in Cumbria on Friday 10th September and will travel through the Pennines before finishing in Gateshead.
In 2019, the Cumbrian stage attracted 100,000 spectators, with half a million viewers watching on television.