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E-bikes could provide older people with “brain boost”

Older cyclists who use e-bikes may be getting the same ‘brain benefits’ as those on standard bikes, new research by the University of Reading and Oxford Brookes University has claimed. 

The research found that cyclists between the ages of 50 to 83 experienced cognitive and mental health benefits from riding a bike, whether it was electrically assisted or pedal powered.

Lead researcher Dr Louise-Ann Leyland, now at University College London, 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 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.”

The researchers found that people using e-bikes reported an even greater improvement in brain function and mental wellbeing as people who used standard bikes, and suggest that the additional benefits that e-bikes provide to older users have an effect beyond increasing physical activity.

Carien Van Reekum, a professor of Psychology at the University of Reading, said: “Among the older adults involved in this project, e-bikes have a number of very positive benefits and in some cases even more so than standard cycles. The findings were not fully what we expected as we thought that the biggest benefit would be seen in the pedal bike group, with cognitive and wellbeing benefits linked to cardiovascular exertion.

“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.

“Instead, people who used e-bikes told us that they felt more confident in completing the requested activity of three 30-minute rides a week for eight weeks, compared to pedal bikers. 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.”

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