Older riders enjoy an increased mental boost from riding e-bikes compared to regular bikes, researchers have found.
Cyclists between 50 and 83-years-old employing the pedal assist advantages of e-bikes were found to experience increased cognitive and mental health benefits compared to a normal bike.
The study by the University of Reading and Oxford Brookes University said extra pedal power enabled more mature riders to explore their local area and interact with people and the natural environment, secure in the knowledge power-assist would get then home stress-free.
Lead researcher Dr Louise-Ann Leyland said: “It is really encouraging 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 or urban environment, even when that was on an electrically assisted e-bike.”
e-bikes have a number of very positive benefits and in some cases even more so than standard cycles
Dr Leyland added 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 there may be an impact of exercising in the environment on executive function and mental health,” she said. “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 said older people using e-bikes reported an an even greater improvement in brain function and mental well-being as those using standard bikes, giving older users benefits beyond the physical.
Professor 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 well-being 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.”
Prof Carien explained it had been thought those using pedal-power only bikes would have the greatest brain and mental health boost, due to the more intense cardiovascular 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,” he said. “The fact 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.”
However, while pedal-assist does provide easier climbing and acceleration, it’s no walk in the park, as Chain Reaction Cycle’s Matt Cole found during a recent test.
The research team also noted people using e-bikes used a variety of settings to assist their pedalling, spending on average 28% of the time in the lowest (eco) setting and 15% with the motor off altogether
The study was part of a project at the universities called CycleBOOM. It’s lead, Dr Tim Jones, said: “Our research demonstrated that the wider therapeutic benefits of cycling outdoors need to be considered. Our participants reported improvements in confidence and self-esteem.”
In a separate paper carried out as part of the CycleBOOM project, the team spoke to older people who were going on cycling ‘microadventures’. The paper found e-bikes played an important role in helping older people to consider cycling as a mode of transport for visiting friends and reconnecting with old areas of interest.
However, the team argue that further investments in infrastructure are needed to encourage more people to benefit.
You can view the full CycleBOOM study below:
The CycleBOOM team note the paper was conducted with a sample of 100 participants and further research is needed to test the reliability of the cognitive and well-being benefits shown.