Author Archives: Christy Rheu

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How Exercise Keeps Us Young                                                      


Active older people resemble much younger people physiologically, according to a new study of the effects of exercise on aging. The findings suggest that many of our expectations about the inevitability of physical decline with advancing years may be incorrect and that how we age is, to a large degree, up to us.

Aging remains a surprisingly mysterious process. A wealth of past scientific research has shown that many bodily and cellular processes change in undesirable ways as we grow older. But science has not been able to establish definitively whether such changes result primarily from the passage of time — in which case they are inevitable for anyone with birthdays — or result at least in part from lifestyle, meaning that they are mutable.

This conundrum is particularly true in terms of inactivity. Older people tend to be quite sedentary nowadays, and being sedentary affects health, making it difficult to separate the effects of not moving from those of getting older.

In the new study, which was published this week in The Journal of Physiology, scientists at King’s College London and the University of Birmingham in England decided to use a different approach.

They removed inactivity as a factor in their study of aging by looking at the health of older people who move quite a bit.

“We wanted to understand what happens to the functioning of our bodies as we get older if we take the best-case scenario,” said Stephen Harridge, senior author of the study and director of the Centre of Human and Aerospace Physiological Sciences at King’s College London.

To accomplish that goal, the scientists recruited 85 men and 41 women aged between 55 and 79 who bicycle regularly. The volunteers were all serious recreational riders but not competitive athletes. The men had to be able to ride at least 62 miles in six and a half hours and the women 37 miles in five and a half hours, benchmarks typical of a high degree of fitness in older people.

The scientists then ran each volunteer through a large array of physical and cognitive tests. The scientists determined each cyclist’s endurance capacity, muscular mass and strength, pedaling power, metabolic health, balance, memory function, bone density and reflexes. They also had the volunteers complete the so-called Timed Up and Go test, during which someone stands up from a chair without using his or her arms, briskly walks about 10 feet, turns, walks back and sits down again.

The researchers compared the results of cyclists in the study against each other and also against standard benchmarks of supposedly normal aging. If a particular test’s numbers were similar among the cyclists of all ages, the researchers considered, then that measure would seem to be more dependent on activity than on age.

As it turned out, the cyclists did not show their age. On almost all measures, their physical functioning remained fairly stable across the decades and was much closer to that of young adults than of people their age. As a group, even the oldest cyclists had younger people’s levels of balance, reflexes, metabolic health and memory ability.

And their Timed Up and Go results were exemplary. Many older people require at least 7 seconds to complete the task, with those requiring 9 or 10 seconds considered to be on the cusp of frailty, Dr. Harridge said. But even the oldest cyclists in this study averaged barely 5 seconds for the walk, which is “well within the norm reported for healthy young adults,” the study authors write.

Some aspects of aging did, however, prove to be ineluctable. The oldest cyclists had less muscular power and mass than those in their 50s and early 60s and considerably lower overall aerobic capacities. Age does seem to reduce our endurance and strength to some extent, Dr. Harridge said, even if we exercise.

But even so, both of those measures were higher among the oldest cyclists than would be considered average among people aged 70 or above.

All in all, the numbers suggest that aging is simply different in the active.

“If you gave this dataset to a clinician and asked him to predict the age” of one of the cyclists based on his or her test results, Dr. Harridge said, “it would be impossible.” On paper, they all look young.

Of course, this study is based on a single snapshot of an unusual group of older adults, Dr. Harridge said. He and his colleagues plan to retest their volunteers in five and 10 years, which will provide better information about the ongoing effects of exercise on aging.

But even in advance of those results, said Dr. Harridge, himself almost 50 and an avid cyclist, this study shows that “being physically active makes your body function on the inside more like a young person’s.”




Bike ride in Eastern Oregon…


The first day’s route led from Heppner up Oregon Route 207 to Spray. (Photo courtesy of Nora Erdozia)

“Bike ride in Eastern Oregon visits Painted Hills, John Day River, back side of cows”             By Allan Brettman |  August 02, 2013

 UKIAH — Pedaling and puffing up a sun-splashed canyon at about 6 miles per hour, I could see the cattle trotting down an off-road path on my left. They were slightly ahead, moving swiftly onto the road.

Uh oh.

The cattle swarmed onto the asphalt near Twickenham in Wheeler County on Saturday afternoon, covering the two lanes of Rowe Creek Road in a territorial fashion befitting a street gang. There were 11 of them trotting, looking over a shoulder, trotting faster than I could pedal. I rode behind at a safe distance. Three of them were pregnant, a few were calves and, thankfully, none of them were bulls.

They were quite capable of moving uphill at or above 6 miles per hour, and they did.

This running of the non-bulls was just one of the many memories I’ll take from a five-day ride in Eastern Oregon that began Friday in Heppner and concludes there, the Morrow County seat, today — Tuesday. Along the way, the ride will have covered about 300 miles, stopped in Spray, Mitchell, Monument and, tonight, in Ukiah. I spent quality time with the geologic wonder that is the Painted Hills for the first time since moving to the Northwest a quarter century ago. I lost track of whether we were crossing the main, middle, north or south fork of the John Day River. And I learned to come to terms and maybe even appreciate more than 20,000 feet of elevation gain. In short, the experience was magnificent.

Christy Rheu Waldner, organizer of the five-day ride, gets water from one of two sag drivers, Michael Snyder of John Day.Courtesy of Nora Erdozia

The ride was organized by Christy Rheu Waldner, a John Day-area resident who works part-time as a family law mediator.

She has been putting together rides mostly for fun and very little profit since 2008.

“It gets lonely in Eastern Oregon!” Waldner said, riding up a road and explaining why she does what she does.

Waldner books motels, plans meals and maps the routes. The first rides were mostly for John Day-area friends, usually held in June and September. She’s assisted along the route by her partner, Hans Magden, a retired John Day veterinarian and renowned expressionist painter.

Ride routes stick to Eastern Oregon,  as far west as Madras, as far east as Unity, as far north as La Grande and as far south as John Day.


A 4-H group in Mitchell cooked lasagna with a chaser of pies and ice cream.Courtesy of Nora Erdozia

Word got around, meaning Portland, and the likes of me starting signing up for the rides. It is a bargain. For $430, we have been supplied route maps, provided with two sag pickups that carry our luggage, stayed in clean and sometimes quaint motels, and fed dinners (half of a baked chicken tonight; grilled tri-tip beef on Sunday night) and breakfast from Thursday night to Tuesday night. (This same route starting in Heppner will be offered in September.)


Riders pedal to Spray on Friday.Courtesy of Nora Erdozia

Waldner is only now getting around to forming a tour company — Over The Hill Bike Tours — and plans to launch a website next year.

Waldner’s also a community booster. Nearly half the meals on our trip helped community groups who served them, like a the Horse N 4-H club in Spray (population 158) or the Future Farmers of America in Monument (population 127).

In addition to Magden, Waldner’s other accomplice is Mike Cosgrove, who was among the nine riders who rode the five days of this journey. (Five others rode for two days.) Cosgrove, a retired John Day school counselor, calls himself the Grant County Cycling Ambassador and he’s chairman of Oregon State Parks and Recreation’s Scenic Bikeways Committee.

IMG_5431.JPGRiders pause at a convenience store on Oregon Route 19 in Service Creek on Saturday.Courtesy of Nora Erdozia

The Oregon Scenic Bikeways is a collection of 12 routes the state has promoted as ideal places to bicycle. The idea was hatched by Cycle Oregon about four years ago as a way to advance economic development in tiny communities year-round and not just in the one week for which Cycle Oregon, co-founded by The Oregonian, has become known.

sheepcanyon.JPGTraveling through the Sheep Rock Unit, John Day Fossil Beds National Monument on Sunday.Courtesy of Nora Erdozia

“It’s the first in the nation,” Cosgrove said of Oregon Scenic Bikeways. “Most states have scenic roadways but we’re the only state that has a scenic bikeways program.”

Four other scenic bikeways are under consideration, in Lakeview, Oakridge, Ashland and the southern Coast. Communities apply for the designation and the Bikeways program checks it out, for community involvement as well as the route itself.

The routes for two of our days have included roads in the Blue Mountain Scenic Bikeway and the Old West Scenic Bikeway.

icecream.JPGThe conclusion of riding on Saturday in Mitchell, gateway to the Painted Hills and National Monument, called for bellying up to the Sidewalk Cafe & More bar for the largest chocolate shake available. Quickly dispatched, a root beer float was then ordered.Courtesy of Nora Erdozia

Cosgrove and Grant County bicycling advocates also have promoted a program called Two Wheels Spoken Here, encouraging businesses to know and cater to bicyclists’ needs. (Waldner, by the way, offers a Bike Inn by donation to cyclists in Mt. Vernon, including those riding the Adventure Cycling TransAmerica route and the state’s Old West Scenic Bikeway.)

Travel Oregon, taking a cue from Two Wheels Spoken Here, has started a similar program called Bike Friendly for a handful of other counties.

“We’re starting we realize we have some very special areas to attract bicyclists from all over the world,” Cosgrove said, “and by doing so it augments our economy.”

dale.JPGThe Dale Service Station, on U.S. Route 395 in the Umatilla National Forest, features photos of the station and post office from decades ago and a range of taxidermy.Courtesy of Nora Erdozia

In September, John Day will serve as the host community for the first two nights of Cycle Oregon. Those two days will mean $75,000 to $100,000 a day will be left behind in the community, Cosgrove said.

Finally, a word about that 20,000 feet in elevation gain, closer to 25,000 by the end of tomorrow. I’m not an expert in these matters, but that’s quite a bit of elevation gain.

But it goes with the territory. While this ride has had its share of unrelenting uphills, for which I was pretty much totally unprepared, it has offered the flip wide with screaming descents. Mercifully, no flats on those descents.

Every day has offered a new view of a Eastern Oregon. The weather has been perfect. I’ll be back.

As for the cows, they kept trotting. I kept riding. A cow would look back, see I was still riding, and the pack would accelerate. This went on for about two miles.

Finally, the road flattened a bit, I picked up speed, kept to the far side of the road and the cows stopped in their tracks and stared at me with all sorts of The Far Side thought bubbles appearing over their head.

Cattle rustling in Eastern Oregon. Time to check mark another box on the bucket list.

— Allan Brettman