Have you ever thought that cycling could be making you younger? Think about it. Perhaps your riding is helping you beat the clock, holding back the years and giving you a chronological advantage. But on the other hand, if you don't treat yourself well, cycling could be adding a few years to your real age.
So try to be honest. Do you look, feel, act and think your age? What would the people around you say? There's a good chance others might have a different answer to your own…
Our ageing is not just a result of what we do, there's also a significant genetic component. For example, skin type, varicose veins or rate of hair loss are just three ways in which heredity will help to determine the hand that is dealt you.
How often have you heard it said that a person looks like their mother, father or grandparents? We might be unique individuals but our genetic building blocks will often closely match those of our parents.
To counter the argument that we are bound to turn into our parents and therefore age as they did, we must consider both sides of the nature-nurture paradigm. Although genetics give us the building blocks, we can do much to make positive – or negative – choices that will affect our health and fitness and thus our rate of ageing.
Few smokers, excessive sun worshippers or totally sedentary people look good for their age. Their lifestyle choices tend to make them age more quickly than nonsmoking, active people who slap on the suntan lotion. The person who smokes 60 a day and lives to 90 is a rarity, far outnumbered by those who have ill health and poor cardio-respiratory systems, and look to have prematurely aged.
In other words, what you do – the 'nurture' – can make big differences to the genetic 'nature' you start life with.
A good or bad hand
You may or may not have good ageing genetics, but as with those genes that affect your fitness, taking the right actions almost always has a positive effect. How you age can show how much you do or don't care for your body. Obvious ways to make yourself look, feel and perform older than you actually are include weight gain, excessive UV damage to the skin, lack of exercise and a poor diet.
As a cyclist, you're not sedentary, but that doesn't necessarily mean that you look good for your age. It could be that you are just starting out as a rider or that you are only recently getting back into the two-wheeled world. Or it might be that you're a long-time rider but that you've not got your weight under control. It's clear that many active people still fight weight as one of their primary demons. And if you stop riding, the demon will catch you.
You might have genetics that are very good at storing fat. If so, it's easy to blame your make-up and get yourself into a mindset where you accept that there's nothing you can do about it. But in fact it's nearly always possible to make yourself leaner, stronger or fitter.
Nature and nurture
The rest of your life starts now. Today. The take away message from this article is quite simple: you do have the power to slow down the ageing process, and to use cycling as a means towards this end. How fast you're ageing is a see-saw effect of nature and nuture. You must control the nature with how you nurture your body. Start right now by doing the reality check – do you look, feel, act and think your age? Write this in your diary, or as a Post-It reminder; don't just think it – write it down and acknowledge the truth. Good or bad.