Older cyclists who use electric bicycles may be getting the same brain benefits as those on standard bikes, according to new research conducted at the University of Reading and Oxford Brookes.
The paper, titled 'The effect of cycling on cognitive function and well-being in older adults', took 100 particpants between the ages of 50-83, 26 of whom where non-cyclists, 38 who were conventional pedal cyclists and 38 who use an e-bike. The study was part of a larger project called Cycle Boom, which aims to advise policy makers on getting older people more active.
Participants took part in the study over eight weeks, with those cycling required to ride their bikes at least three times a week for 30 minutes - cognitive function and well-being were measured before and afterwards, one of the first studies to investigate the effects of cycling on cognition in older people outside of a lab. Results surprised researchers, who found that those using the e-bikes had an even greater improvement in brain function and mental wellbeing than people who used standard bikes. The researchers suggest that the additional benefits that e-bikes provide to older users have an effect beyond increasing physical activity. E-bike perticipants used a variety of assistance, spending on average 28% of the time in eco mode and 15% with the motor off.
The lead researcher Dr Louise-Ann Leyland said: “It is really encouraging that this research suggests older adults’ cognitive function, particularly what we call executive function as well as processing speed, could be improved by cycling in the natural/urban environment, even when that was on an electrically assisted e-bike.
“Furthermore, we found that some aspects of mental health and well-being increased in participants, who cycled on an e-bike for an hour and a half a week for an eight-week period. This suggests that there may be an impact of exercising in the environment on executive function and mental health. It would be great to see the effect of cycling, particularly e-bike use, on cognition and well-being in a larger sample of participants over a longer period of time.”
Prof Carien Van Reekum, a Professor of Psychology at the University of Reading, said: “This study confirms that getting out on your bike is good for the brains of older people. But what surprised us is that these benefits are not only linked to the extra levels of exercise.
“We had thought that those who used traditional, pedal-only powered bikes would have the greatest brain and mental health boost, as they would be giving their cardiovascular systems the biggest workout. The fact that the group was able to get outside on a bike, even without much physical exertion, is likely to make people feel mentally better. If having a bit of extra help from an electric motor encourages more people to cycle, the positive effects can be shared across a wider age range and with people who are less confident on a bike.”