Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Getting Old? Ride a Bike!

Look at this fun photo - a couple of grey-haired people with bicycles, smiling with delight.  It's the cover photo for a "healthy aging" supplement in the Seattle Times this morning, and I eagerly paged through looking for articles about riding bikes when old.

The article headlines were promising: "Put yourself on the path to a longer, healthier life," "Today's senior center is at the heart of an active lifestyle," "Centenarians reveal their secrets to a long and happy life," "Enjoying retirement in a home that's suited for an active life."  And on the next to the last page, there's another picture of happy old folks riding bikes.

So what does this special, bike-themed newspaper supplement have to say about seniors riding bikes?  Aside from the charming pictures, nothing.  And many opportunities were missed.  For example, the "nest egg" article above is full of ideas for saving money.  How about ditching the car and riding a bike?  Not mentioned.

The active lifestyle at "today's senior center" includes fitness programs, line dancing, bowling, tap-dancing, visiting the FBI office in Seattle and going on cruises - but not riding a bike to a nearby cafe.

Centenarians' secrets to a long and happy life include keeping up with exercise; "more than half walk or hike...some even run outdoors or play team sports every week."  As for boomers, on their way to being centenarians, "nearly 3 in 4 walk or hike each week, ... 13 percent run outdoors or play team sports."  Doesn't anyone ride a bike?

One article discusses transportation options for seniors who want to age safely at home.  Seniors are advised to "investigate transportation options in your area so you can maintain an active social life ... Finding new ways to get around, even after you are no longer driving, may allow you to stay engaged and active."  Why not mention bikes as transportation?

And even the article titled "Put yourself on the path to a longer, healthier life" somehow overlooks bikes.  We're advised to "keep walking, swimming, dancing or gardening."

It's a sad fact that in the United States, very few people over 65 ride bikes.  But that doesn't have to be the case.  In the Netherlands, where bikes are used for nearly one fourth of all trips overall, people depend more on bikes as they age.

figure from "Walking and Cycling in Western Europe and the United States," by Ralph Buehler and John Pucher, Transportation News, vol. 280, May-June 2012, p. 36
It's a strange irony that images of happy old people riding bikes are chosen to represent the concept of healthy aging, but the real act of riding a bike doesn't enter at all into the discussion of how to stay healthy in old age.  I guess I'll just keep riding my bike, and encouraging my aging friends to do likewise.

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