AUSTIN, Texas — Retired state employees Vickey Benford, 63, and Joan Caldwell, 61, are Golden Rollers, a group of the over-50 set that gets out on assorted bikes — including trikes for adults they call “three wheels of awesome” — for an hour of trail riding and camaraderie.

“I love to exercise, and I like to stay fit,” said Caldwell, who tried out a recumbent bike, a low-impact option that can be easier on the back. “It keeps me young.”

Benford encouraged Caldwell to join the organized rides, which have attracted more than 225 riders at city rec centers and senior activity centers. The cyclists can choose from a small, donated fleet of recumbent bikes, tandem recumbents and tricycles.

“With seniors, it’s less about transportation and more about access to the outdoors, social engagement and quality of life,” said Christopher Stanton, whose idea for Golden Rollers grew out of the Ghisallo Cycling Initiative, a youth biking nonprofit he founded in 2011.

But that’s not all, according to brain scientists. They point to another important benefit: Exercising both body and brain can help people stay healthier longer.

The new thinking about aging considers not just how long one lives, but how vibrant one stays later in life.

“If you’re living, you want to be living well,” said Tim Peterson, an assistant professor of internal medicine at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. “Most people who were interested in life span and were studying genes — which control life span — switched to ‘healthspan.’” 

“Healthspan,” a coinage now gaining traction, refers to the years that a person can expect to live in generally good health — free of chronic illnesses and cognitive decline that can emerge near life’s end. Although there’s only so much a person can do to delay the onset of disease, there’s plenty that scientists are learning to improve your chances of a better healthspan.

The work takes on special resonance in light of a new report published in the Journal of the American Medical Association showing that life expectancy in the United States has decreased in recent years. A rise in midlife mortality (ages 25 to 64) has dragged down the overall expectancy.

“The idea is to make people productive, healthier and happier longer and more capable taking care of themselves,” said Andreana Haley, a psychology professor at the University of Texas at Austin who is among this breed of researchers working to understand healthspan. “We now live a long time with a lot of chronic diseases, and it’s not fun. It’s costly — in terms of productivity, caregiving responsibilities, cost of health care.”

Haley, who collaborates with exercise physiologists, nutritionists, behavioral neuroscientists and physicians, said researchers from many other disciplines are also studying healthspan, such as nurses, speech pathologists and pharmacists.

Their work is inspired by an aging U.S. population with changing needs. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 10,000 people a…

This article was sourced from Star News Online.

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