Bob Fietsam is a convert. He used to be a runner, but for the past 15 years, 77-year-old Fietsam of Belleville, Ill., has been waking up early to ride his stationary bike before going to his accounting job. He has kept fit without pounding his joints like he did when his exercise of choice was running.

“I’ve lost 30 pounds. I don’t feel pain in my knees anymore, and I am able to play golf again, which I couldn’t do when I was running,” he says.

Fietsam, who has logged more than 100,000 miles, the equivalent of four times around the world, says his routine works well for him. He points out he can use the indoor bike year-round in his snowy Illinois hometown; he doesn’t have to dodge cars on the street; and he can listen to the radio or watch TV during his rides. Fietsam credits the cardiovascular benefits of cycling for giving him the stamina to continue working well into his seventies. 

There’s no question that indoor cycling is an excellent way to get a cardiovascular workout without stressing weight-bearing joints, says Matthew Goodemote, head physical therapist at Community Physical Therapy & Wellness in Gloversville, N.Y. It’s also a good option for people with balance problems, he adds, because there is no need to lean the bike to turn. “People with osteoarthritis (OA) or rheumatoid arthritis (RA) who become inactive because of pain often develop balance problems, so they are less likely to injure themselves on a stationary bike,” he says.

Want to start a routine? Go for it, but start slowly, perhaps with a five-minute session at a comfortable pace three times per day, says Goodemote. “Once people can ride with no pain for five minutes three times a day, I bump them up to seven minutes, then to 10, 15 or 20 three times per day -- getting them to 30, 45 or 60 minutes of exercise per day. Initially, adding five minutes seems like a big jump, but once tolerance builds, larger gains are made in shorter time frames. Down the road, people can more easily add 15-minute increments to their rides.