Saturday 21 September 2019

When dressing up in spandex beats sleeping with secretary

Giro cyclists making their way up Crowe Street in Dundalk; cycling has become a new way of dealing with a mid-life crisis for many men.
Giro cyclists making their way up Crowe Street in Dundalk; cycling has become a new way of dealing with a mid-life crisis for many men.
Lorraine Courtney

Lorraine Courtney

The male midlife crisis used to involve girlfriends half the guy's age, spending money on a car that was inversely proportionate to his sense of self-worth, piercing an ear and maybe getting regular spray tans. Right now, it seems that middle-aged men across the length and breadth of the country are digging out the lycra and getting really into cycling.

There's even an acronym for them: MAMILS. That's Middle-Aged Men in Lycra and it's basically every man on the wrong side of 40 who is determined to show that he isn't quite past it yet.

The term was actually coined back in 2010 by Mintel when a report found a brand new market segment made up of men in their 40s and 50s with plenty of disposable income.

You'll recognise a MAMIL by his head-to-toe lycra. He can also easily spend around €3,000 on a new set of wheels, usually a Pinarello, that's been custom-built to his exact build and weight, and quickly becomes obsessed with the whole kit. He's also obsessed with his personal best times.

He'll compulsively use a GPS (global positioning system) tracking device on his bike and then download his ride statistics on to some website where he can compare them with all his friends' times.

The midlife crisis is apparently a real thing and has been vindicated by science. Social scientists have explained how, around the age of 50, we tend to lose our ambition to be the best at what we do yet we still have all the same work, social and family responsibilities.

It's also around this age that we are suddenly confronted by our own mortality as we watch our physical wellbeing and health decline.

This changes in subsequent years as we begin to accept our decline and nearing death, and seek out fun and enjoyment from life again. Happiness can be thought of as U-shaped: people are happiest at the beginning and then again towards the end of their lives.

Menopausal man is a screen hero too. Kevin Spacey below, encapsulated it perfectly with his portrayal of Lester Burnham in 'American Beauty'. After years of being slighted, office drone Lester splashes out on a 1970 Pontiac Firebird, gets into Pink Floyd and pot, and lusts after a teenage cheerleader.

"Both my wife and daughter think I'm this gigantic loser and they're right, I have lost something. I'm not exactly sure what it is but I know I didn't always feel this . . . sedated. But you know what? It's never too late to get it back," he tells us. And he does.

Cycling increased almost 10pc nationally between the 2006 and 2011 censuses.

The CSO reports that the number of females who drove to work in 2011 (551,638) exceeded the number of male drivers (515,813) for the first time, although more women also walk to work.

However, cycling is still very much a male thing. The CSO says men accounted for the majority of those cycling with 29,075 out of the total 39,803.

The benefits are multi-fold. Stanford University School of Medicine researchers asked sedentary insomnia sufferers to cycle for 20-30 minutes every other day.

The result? The time it took them to get to sleep fell by half and their actual sleep time increased by almost an hour. "Exercising outside exposes you to daylight," explains Professor Jim Horne from Loughborough University's sleep research centre.

"This helps get your circadian rhythm back in sync, and also rids your body of cortisol, the stress hormone that can prevent deep, regenerative sleep."

Researchers from Illinois University also found that a 5pc improvement in cardio-respiratory fitness from cycling led to an improvement of up to 15pc in mental tests.

That's because cycling helps build new brain cells in the hippocampus – the area responsible for memory, which deteriorates from the age of 30. And according to research from the University of North Carolina, people who cycle for 30 minutes five days a week take about half as many sick days as couch potatoes.

So, you lose a few pounds. You get fitter. You sleep better and feel better. Don't laugh if you see a MAMIL peddling past. As midlife crises go, dressing up in spandex beats sleeping with the secretary.

Irish Independent

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