Cycling could help you live longer and reduce knee pain

It’s the cycle of life.

Lifelong bicyclers may live longer, have stronger immune systems and are less likely to experience knee pain or osteoarthritis, than people who don’t ride bikes.

Although previous studies have already shown several benefits of cycling, new research now shows that people who cycle regularly have significantly less chance of developing osteoarthritis by the age of 65, according to NPR. 

Researchers say that lifelong cycling could help you live longer and avoid knee pain. joyt – stock.adobe.com

The study, which was published last month in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, surveyed 2,600 people with an average age of 64 about their lifetime exercise habits. All of the participants were at an elevated risk for developing knee arthritis due to either the weight, family history or other previous injuries. Researchers also took X-rays of participants to evaluate the arthritis in their joints. 

The study is also notable because scientists didn’t examine athletes — they just looked at the exercise habits of “average” people. 

“Bicyclers were 21% less likely to have X-ray evidence and symptoms of osteoarthritis compared to those who did not have a history of bicycling,” Dr. Grace Lo, a study author and associate professor at Baylor College of Medicine, told NPR.

Osteoarthritis, or OA, is the most common form of arthritis and affects over 32.5 million Americans, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Sometimes called “wear-and-tear” arthritis, it primarily affects people over the age of 50 and happens when the cartilage in a joint starts to break down, causing loss of function and pain. 

People who bike ride on a regular basis are 22% less likely to die prematurely. lazyllama – stock.adobe.com

“I was surprised to see how very strong the benefit was,” Lo added. 

Researchers point to the fact that cycling is low impact — making it a very sustainable form of exercise for people over the course of their lifetime. When you’re cycling, the repetitive motion — pedaling in a circular fashion again and again — also helps to circulate synovial joint fluid around the knee. The fluid acts as a lubricant, helping to keep joints working in a smooth, frictionless way. 

When the fluid is well circulated, it also provides nutrient delivery to the cartilage,” Matthew Harkey, co-author and musculoskeletal researcher at Michigan State University, explained to NPR.

Riding bicycles may be especially helpful as people age, because it’s low impact and doesn’t put much stress on joints. Clement Coetzee/peopleimages.com – stock.adobe.com

Although biking comes with some level of risk of injury, overall, researchers said that because there is little weight bearing on the joints, compared to an activity like jogging, it’s very beneficial to those looking to maintain an activity for life. 

“There’s good data to support that people live longer when they bicycle,” Lo said.

Previous studies have shown that people who cycle for just an hour each week are 22% less likely to die prematurely. 

Ultimately, cycling, the researchers noted, is exercise that people can do for life to extend their life. 

“I think that it is a great preventative strategy for many things, including arthritis,” Lo explained.

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