We all know that regular cardiovascular exercise like cycling is good for our physical health, but it’s also highly beneficial for our brain health too.  Christina Neal speaks to Richard Howeson from Britain’s biggest language company, uTalk, about how cycling helps him keep mind and body active…

When describing his love of cycling, Dementia Help’s Peter Berry, who has early Alzheimer’s, says: ‘Cycling is a chance for me to leave my dementia at home. It helps me to become the person I used to be, just for a while. When I’m cycling, I’ve left my dementia behind.’

Later this month, with the support of his friends Jan Dodd and Jon Bray, Peter will cycle 330 miles across the country from Wales to Suffolk. Peter is on a mission to raise money for the charity, YoungDementia UK, which provides support to the 42,000 people in Britain under the age of 65 living with dementia.

Peter has been a keen cyclist for several years and began training for the Cycle Challenge earlier this year. As the rides have got longer, his mood has improved and he feels healthier and happier. While he enjoys the physical health benefits and credits cycling with improving his balance (which can be affected in a person with dementia), he also enjoys the mental health benefits. ‘I feel so much better when I’ve been out for a ride,’ he says. ‘It helps me sleep and encourages me to eat healthier foods.’

Cycling is a cost-effective, inexpensive way to get fit and is also a low impact form of cardiovascular exercise. So, while it’s good for the heart, it won’t put any pressure on your joints. Cycling has been known to reduce stress and anxiety, resulting in calmer thinking, as it releases endorphins, also known as ‘feel good’ hormones which lead to a feeling a mild euphoria and wellbeing. It can also ease symptoms of mild to moderate depression. From a health perspective, there’s numerous benefits – according to the website, cyclinguk.org, cycling to work is linked to a 45 per cent lower risk of developing cancer and a 46 per cent reduced risk of cardiovascular disease when compared to commuting to work by car or public transport.

There’s also evidence to say that exercise like cycling can help to reduce a person’s risk of developing dementia. Alzheimer’s Society has been looking at several studies on middle-aged people and the effects of physical exercise, like running, on their thinking and memory in later life. Combining the results of 11 studies shows that regular exercise can significantly reduce the risk of developing dementia by about 30 per cent. The risk of Alzheimer’s disease (the most common type of dementia) was reduced by 45 per cent.

Richard Howeson, owner and co-founder of uTalk (https://utalk.com/en), Britain’s biggest language learning company – also sponsors of the Dementia Help Cycle Challenge – is a keen cyclist and regularly and competitively plays bike polo. He also represented England in the 2016 World Bike Polo Championships in Rajasthan, India. The sport helps him keep fit and alert. ‘I can completely relate to Peter Berry’s exercise choice,’ he says. ‘I find cycling enjoyable. I usually cycle to work, which sets me up for the day.’

Bike polo, which is like normal polo, except with horses replaced by bikes, usually takes place on a hard surface like a netball court, on grass or on astro-turf.

A sport like bike polo requires a lot of concentration as you’re using your motor skills – which means using your balance, coordination and reaction skills. Richard believes in keeping his mind active and enjoys the level of concentration required when playing bike polo. ‘All the time during the game you’re thinking about where you’re going next and how to manoeuvre around the pitch,’ he says. ‘There’s lots of twisting and turning, it takes a great deal of concentration and mental focus and a lot of skill.’

Richard, aged 67, enjoys the variety of the game. ‘It’s really exciting and very good for the brain as you’re concentrating so hard. It’s a very mentally engaging activity,’ he says. ‘I do think it’s important to be physically and mentally active, especially when you’re older,’ adds Richard. ‘Peter is a great example of someone who won’t let his illness stop him from doing things. I’m very impressed with Peter’s commitment to the Cycle Challenge and I’m sure he’ll do a great job of raising money for charity.’

More information
uTalk is Britain’s biggest language company and two-time winner of the prestigious Queen’s Award for Export Achievement and Innovation. uTalk has been used by 30 million people in 100 countries. You can download the uTalk app at utalk.com/app or visit the Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/uTalk/