I recently re-joined the cycling bandwagon. Not because I didn’t like it, but I got out of it because I was doing other workouts. For the last couple of weeks, I’ve been doing a 6 am spin class. That’s not a humble brag, rather, it’s me trying to evoke some sympathy from our readers. What’s interesting is that a new study is suggesting that there is a link between cycling and an individuals’ immune system. Researchers in the UK examined the blood of 125 people over the age of 55, who have regularly cycled for most of their lives. And what they’re finding is that those that did cycle, had a better immune system than those that didn’t.
It’s a bit more complicated than that. The researchers were looking for markers of T-cell production. T cells are one of the major foot soldiers of the immune system, tasked with a variety of roles, such as recognizing and killing foreign invaders. In the study, they compared these fit seniors to 75 similarly aged, otherwise healthy people, who didn’t exercise much. They also compared this to a group of 55-year-old adults who weren’t all that active. What did they find? The older cyclists had higher levels of young, freshly made T-cells than their sedentary counterparts. But even more surprising to the researchers, these levels were about the same as those found in the younger group.
What does this mean, if anything? The older we get, our immune system gradually declines. This is what we think. Or rather, what we know. But through this research, we are finding out that this might not always be the case. This study isn’t the first to show the difference between an active person and an inactive person. We have known for years that sedentary lifestyles can increase the risk of a lot of chronic conditions like cardiovascular disease, obesity, and even cancers. Just ask anyone who has been severely overweight how different they feel after they’ve lost a lot of weight. And that’s in relation to what we can feel (joint pain, fatigue etc.). Think about all the good things that we can’t see. Like bringing down your risk of having a heart attack, or getting cancer.
Janet Lord, co-author of the study had this to say:
“The immune system declines by about 2-3 percent a year from our 20s, which is why older people are more susceptible to infections, conditions like rheumatoid arthritis and, potentially, cancer. Because the cyclists have the immune system of a 20-year-old rather than a 70- or 80-year-old, it means they have added protection against all these issues.”
This study doesn’t mean that cyclists are immune to everything. But it does mean that this kind of activity will help reduce the kinds of diseases they are at risk of contracting. Because our immune systems decline over our lifetime, this is helpful to understand as it could lead to other ways to fight off diseases. Still, the researchers theorize that not only will staying active into your later years protect you from diseases like cancer, it could also make vaccines used on you that much more effective. They next plan to study the same group of cyclists to test their vaccine theory.