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How to start cycling after 50

Last updated 17th February 2023
6 min read

Starting cycling after 50 might feel daunting, but it can be a tremendous way to promote both your physical health and your mental wellbeing. Exercise has many health benefits, but cycling in particular offers a unique opportunity to reinvigorate your weekly routine.

In this guide, we will discuss the benefits of riding a bike in later life, and explain how you can get started with this fun form of exercise.

Benefits of riding a bike in later life

Cycling increases your heart rate and gets your muscles working. It can make you feel more confident and energetic, and give you a real sense of accomplishment.

Like running, it may be somewhat difficult at first, but pushing through and developing your endurance can mean not only will you become a better cyclist, but other activities like hiking or even DIY and housework will feel easier too. As the British Heart Foundation explains, this is partly because cycling makes you stronger(www.bhf.org.uk opens in a new tab), due to the fact that it uses almost every muscle!

According to the NHS(www.nhsinform.scot opens in a new tab), some of the health benefits of cycling include:

  • Reducing the risk of serious illness
  • Offering a boost to your mental health
  • Aerobic exercise that's easier on your joints

Reduce your risk of serious illness

When done regularly, cycling can reduce your risk of a number of serious illnesses, including heart disease, type 2 diabetes and stroke. When combined with other forms of exercise, it can even help to reduce the risk of falls, hip fractures and dementia (www.nhs.uk opens in a new tab) later in life.

Boost your mental health

Cycling is also known to help with some mental health symptoms, such as depression and anxiety. Exercise, making new friends and getting out of the house more can all be mood boosters, and many areas even have cycling groups to provide some extra encouragement. You could even see if any family or friends want to start cycling for a great way to spend more time together.

For more about mental wellbeing and how to spot the signs of mental health changes, you might be interested in our interview with a Samaritans volunteer.

Protect your joints

The NHS recommends(www.nhs.uk opens in a new tab) a mixture of strengthening exercises, and moderate to vigorous intensity activity for at least 150 minutes a week for people over 50. For those over 65(www.nhs.uk opens in a new tab), they recommend the same amount of vigorous activity for those who are already active.

Cycling gives you a great opportunity to get some of this moderate and vigorous exercise, but without the damaging impact to your joints that can come with running.

How to start cycling after 50

If you’ve not cycled in a while and are feeling a bit overwhelmed by the idea of starting again, there are some steps you can take to make getting started on your exciting new hobby that little bit easier.

1. Try before you buy

Like any new hobby, it’s a good idea to give cycling a try once again before spending time and money on making it a habit. Whether you rent a bike from a local shop, or borrow one from a friend, it can be good to test it out when there’s no pressure to commit.

2. Choose the best bike for you

If you don’t want to be restricted to renting or borrowing bikes you might want to purchase your own. It’s important that you choose the right size and the right type of bike for your needs. What type of bike will depend on what kind of paths or roads you’ll be riding on (e.g. road bike, mountain bike, gravel bike). This can also help you to think about where you’d like to go cycling.

The size of bike will depend largely on your height, length of inside leg and frame size of your chosen bike type. There are some great guides available online for bike types(www.bikeradar.com opens in a new tab) and bike sizes(www.halfords.com opens in a new tab), or you could visit a bike shop in person to get help from a professional.

3. Gear up

Once you have your bike you’ll need the gear(slocyclist.com opens in a new tab) to go with it. Crashes and falls can happen, so safety gear is important to protect you from these situations. A helmet and gloves are the most basic things any cyclist needs to make sure they’re protected. A patch kit or hand pump for flat tires will be useful, and a road ID tag with medical information is a sensible precaution.

You’ll also want to consider how you’re going to store and transport your bike. This could mean a good bike lock and possibly even a bicycle rack for the car if you’ll be driving to your chosen cycle spots.

4. Start slow

Once you’re ready to start cycling, allow yourself to take things slow and go at your own pace while you get used to it. You may be using muscles you haven’t used in a while and taking things gently will reduce the risk of straining or pulling a muscle.

5. Know the rules of the road

Like drivers, cyclists have their own rules to follow once on the road. Even if you plan to keep to cycle paths and parks, it’s good to familiarise yourself with the legal laws and general advice cyclists adhere to(www.cyclinguk.org opens in a new tab).

You could even consider an adult cycling course(www.bikeability.org.uk opens in a new tab) to put what you’ve learned to the test with the help of a qualified instructor.

6. Ride with friends

Cycling can be a wonderful opportunity to socialise. Being able to go on adventures and build bonds with people without many ongoing costs makes cycling a sustainable and affordable way to make memories that will last a lifetime.

7. Remember to rest and recover

As with any exercise it’s important to give your body time to recover after a period of activity, especially if it’s a type you haven’t done in a long time. Proper warm up and cool down exercises(www.britishcycling.org.uk opens in a new tab) can help avoid issues, as well as taking break days to help ensure your body gradually gets used to your new hobby.

What if I have balance problems?

Although cycling itself can improve balance, it could put extra strain on vulnerable parts of the body if you have existing injuries or conditions. Speak to your GP if you have any concerns before taking up cycling.

Alternatively, walking and home workouts could be easier forms of exercise if you’re worried about balance. These also develop muscles and get your heart rate up, meaning they have many of the same benefits as cycling.

Safety concerns for cycling after 50

Despite the numerous health benefits there are safety concerns to consider before committing to cycling.

The risks will vary depending on where you’re cycling and how safe the area is, but these considerations should still be noted so that you can make an informed decision about wherever cycling is right for you. Getting in touch with a local cycle group might be a good place to start if you have any questions or concerns.

It’s always worth chatting to your GP if you’re worried about cycling’s impact on pre-existing conditions.

Next steps

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