The key to defying the ageing process might have baffled humans ever since the first crow’s feet appeared on the face of early man, but scientists have discovered the secret of staying young could be as easy as riding a bike.
A study of fit amateur cyclists between the ages 55 to 79 has found that many were physically and biologically much younger than most people of the same age.
In proof that you do not have to be Sir Bradley Wiggins to reap the benefits of cycling, the participants - 81 men and 41 women from across the UK - were all amateurs.
“Inevitably, our bodies will experience some decline with age, but staying physically active can buy you extra years of function,” said Professor Norman Lazarus, one of the researchers from King’s College London, who is also a keen cyclist.
Those who took part in the study underwent extensive tests of their heart, lung, neuromuscular, metabolic, and hormonal functions. Their reflexes, muscle and bone strength, and oxygen uptake were also measured, as well as mental ability and general health and well-being.
In one basic test of falling risk in older people the time taken to stand from a chair, walk three metres, turn, walk back and sit down was recorded.
Taking more than 15 seconds to complete the task generally indicates a high risk of falling.
But even the oldest cyclists - those in their seventies - had times that fell well within the norm for healthy young adults.
“Cycling not only keeps you mentally alert, but requires the vigorous use of many of the body’s key systems,” added Prof Lazarus.
Findings are bound to bolster the campaign to put Yorkshire at the forefront of the UK’s cycling revolution following the success of last summer’s hosting of the Grand Départ.
And the latest benefits have been endorsed by the region’s most prominent pensioner on two wheels, Tour de France hero Brian Robinson.
Mr Robinson, the first Briton to win a stage of the world’s biggest bike race, may be 84 but still cycles most days. For the past two years, it has been with the help of a power-assisted bike designed to help tackle trickier terrains.
He said: “I’d like to think it keeps me young. I’ve never really had any health complaints other than a bit of wear and tear.
“I had my appendix out when I was 18, but apart from that I’m quite happy with the way things have gone.”
Cycling carries its own risks, however, as Mr Robinson, of Mirfield, West Yorkshire, discovered when he was knocked off his bike in July last year.
Accidents aside, a life on the saddle has helped to keep doctors at bay.
“What happened to me wasn’t my fault but I am more cautious now,” said Mr Robinson.
“It didn’t scare me off cycling. I’m still getting out and about and enjoying life.”