New UK research has found that, despite offering a little extra help with pedalling, electric bikes may provide even bigger brain benefits for seniors than traditional bikes.
Carried out by researchers at the University of Reading and Oxford Brookes University, the new small-scale study looked at 100 adults aged 50 to 83. Among the group, 26 participants were non-cyclists who acted as controls, 36 used a standard pedal bike, and 38 used an e-bike, fitted with an electric motor to help with pedalling.
The cycling participants were asked to cycle at least three times a week for 30 minutes each ride for a period of eight weeks, and all of the participants’ cognitive function and well-being were measured before and after the study.
The findings, published in the journal PLOS One, showed that all cyclists benefited from a boost to cognitive function and mental health, regardless of which bike they used.
However, although both groups of cyclists showed improvements in executive function (skills that help with memory, impulse control, and planning), e-bike users actually showed greater improvement in other areas of brain function and mental well-being than the participants who used standard bikes, when compared to the non-cycling control participants.
The researchers now suggest that cycling may bring additional benefits for health beyond just increasing levels of activity, with spending time in the outdoors also appearing to have an effect on wellbeing.
“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,” commented study author Professor Carien Van Reekum. “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,” continued Prof Van Reekum.
“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.”