A study conducted by researchers at Oxford Brookes and Reading universities in Britain have found that the psychological and cognitive effects of cycling outdoors are equal for e-bikes and normal bikes.
After a cycling controversy where it was rumored that Fabian Cancellara became victorious in the 2010 Tour of Flanders by using a hidden electric motor, the cycling authorities have started to use thermal imaging and mobile X-rays for bike screening and major races. The previous year, an amateur French rider was charged with ‘mechanical doping’ and had to serve community service for 60 years. Today, when you can easily find e-bikes online, this study reminds us that they have a positive side outside the racing world.
The study in question was aimed at understanding the psychological well-being and cognitive function in adults above 50 years of age, as the cognitive function tends to deteriorate with age. However, what is encouraging is the fact that these deteriorations are not entirely inevitable and can be fought against using two simple tactics – going outdoors and staying active.
In the study, the researchers combined both these tactics, sending 100 volunteers in the outdoor environment on bikes, rather than simply studying the effects of exercising in the lab. Aged between 50 and 83, the volunteers were divided into three groups. The first group was allotted normal bikes, the second was given e-bikes and the third group was the non-cycling group. None being habituated to cycling regularly, they were asked to practice at least half-an-hour of biking, thrice a week for the next eight weeks, completing a sequence of psychological questionnaires and cognitive tests before the study began and upon its completion.
The premise of the test was that moderate biking would be enough to enhance the cognitive function. While the results weren’t as uniform and strong as expected, they supported the premise in general. Both the cycling groups showed noticeable improvement as compared to the control group in several executive function tests.
With various engine settings, the e-bike riders enjoyed plenty of help from the motor, spending only 15 percent of the entire cycling time with the motor off. But, the e-bike riders also spent a greater amount of time (2.39 hours/week) cycling as compared to the normal bikers (2.07 hours/week).
What proved interesting was the comparison of the results among the two cycling groups. It was presumed by the researchers that the regular biking group would reflect the biggest effects having to work the hardest. However, the results projected no or little difference between the two groups. Both the groups showed improvement in all the tests, the e-bike riders scoring equally well to the normal riders, and even better in some cases.
The conclusion that can be apparently drawn from the results is that physical exercise has a lesser impact on cognitive health than stepping into the rich outdoors. However, one must be cautious while drawing any such conclusion. The exercise included in the study was too little to have a strong impact, meaning more exercise could have shown physical benefits. Again, cognitive health could have shown improvement in e-bike riders due to the excitement and challenge of learning something new.
Despite it all, the unexpectedly well performance of e-bike riders in the test cannot be neglected. Researchers have found that some e-bike riders got the confidence to explore more without having to worry about the return journey home. This can play a big role in overcoming the hurdles that prevent older people from cycling, which is far more important than figuring out which form of exercise is more effective.