Biking helps prevent knee pain and boosts longevity, studies show : Shots - Health News New research shows lifelong bikers have healthier knees, less pain and a longer lifespan, compared to people who've never biked. This adds to the evidence that cycling promotes healthy aging.

Like to bike? Your knees will thank you and you may live longer, too

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Over the weekend, I was chatting with a competitive cyclist. He had cuts from scraping the pavement in a crash in a race the day before. He told me that in competitive cycling, if you don't crash at least once a year, you're not really trying. So that's high-speed biking, but it turns out that ordinary bicycle riding is healthy. New evidence says people who keep up the habit of cycling over a lifetime have healthier knees, less pain, and longer lives. NPR's Allison Aubrey continues our series, "How To Thrive As You Age.".

ALLISON AUBREY, BYLINE: Given the choice between a car or a bike, Brooks Boliek says that's an easy decision.

BROOKS BOLIEK: Yeah, traffic in D.C. stinks. So in my 20s, I got attracted to cycling.

AUBREY: And his bike became his source of transportation.

BOLIEK: I worked for the Hollywood Reporter. I was their man in Washington, and I commuted from our house. We lived in Silver Spring at the time, and so I would commute downtown to just get to work.

AUBREY: The half-hour ride put him in a good mood. Now at age 65, he's mostly retired, and he's still an avid cyclist.

BOLIEK: The endorphins is the best high ever. And the other thing about it is just the long-term health effects. My doctor says he wishes eve ry patient he has 65 years old had my cardiovascular profile.

AUBREY: In addition to a healthy heart, he says his joints are in good shape too. And his story fits with the finding of a new study of people his age. Researcher Grace Lo of Baylor College of Medicine studied about 2,600 men and women, mostly in their 60s. X-rays showed those who reported biking consistently as one of their top activities, had less arthritis in their knees and reported less knee pain.

GRACE LO: I was surprised to see how very strong the benefit was. We saw this very dramatic association, which was kind of amazing.

AUBREY: Amazing because the people in the study were not competitive athletes. In fact, most of them were average 65-year-olds at elevated risk of knee arthritis due to their weight, family history, or prior injury. So Lo says it goes to show even recreational biking or riding a stationary bike can be beneficial.

LO: There's good data to support that people live longer when they bicycle and so this can be exercise that they can participate in over a lifetime, and I think that that is really a great preventive strategy for many things, including arthritis.

AUBREY: Cycling puts less stress on the knee joints compared to other types of exercise, such as running. Cycling also helps build muscle strength around the knee, which also helps protect the joints. Matt Harkey is a musculoskeletal researcher at Michigan State University and a co-author of the study. He says there's likely another benefit too - moving protective joint fluid around the knee.

MATT HARKEY: The kind of rhythmic motion of cycling - what it does is help to circulate the synovial fluid throughout the joint to help to kind of lubricate and provide kind of nutrient delivery to the cartilage.

AUBREY: Of course, bikers do need to be aware of risks on the road to avoid injury. Still, biking enthusiast Brooks Boliek says cycling gives him joy.

BOLIEK: It makes you feel alive. And it keeps you living longer. And I'm very goal-oriented, so that gives me something to do. It gives me something to concentrate on, something to live for.

AUBREY: A sense of purpose that helps keep his heart pumping and his muscles strong. He says he'd love to keep riding until the day he dies.

Allison Aubrey, NPR News.

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