Aging Well: Pedaling for fitness and fun
July 5, 2010
■ Routt County Riders is a nonprofit group dedicated to promoting and enhancing many types of cycling through advocacy, events and volunteer opportunities. Membership and involvement supports these efforts. For more information about the group or biking in Routt County, visit http://www.routtcountyriders.org.
■ Over The Hill Gang is a year-round recreation and social group for active adults 50 and older in Steamboat Springs. Summer activities include ongoing group bike rides for a variety of abilities. For more information about cycling, other activities and membership, visit http://www.ssoverthehill gang.org.
Steamboat Springs — Two years ago, Peggy Epstein had a hard time keeping up with her biking buddies.
A bike upgrade and many more rides later, she holds her own while riding county roads with other older adults — and continues to surprise herself.
"Today I must have biked about 26 miles, which I think is shocking," Epstein said after a recent ride in Strawberry Park with members of the Over The Hill Gang.
The Gang, a recreation and social group for adults ages 50 and older, contributes to a strong cycling community for older adults — from casual riders acquainting their legs to riding rhythms to adventurers addicted to the thrills and perils of singletrack.
Advantages of living in a biking community — clubs and advocacy organizations, bike shops, health professionals and experienced riders eager to help — make the sport less intimidating and more accessible to beginners interested in biking toward better health.
"After my rides, I feel absolutely wonderful," Epstein said.
Reaping the benefits
Anyone who has tackled a hill, harsh head winds or a longer than expected route can attest to cycling's challenges. It's those challenges, however, that help make cycling physically and mentally fulfilling.
The cardiovascular benefits of cycling make it a good form of exercise for those looking to maintain or lose weight. It also tends to be easy on the joints, especially the knees, explained Jennifer Kerr, a physical therapist at SportsMed.
"I think biking can be a lot gentler than other forms of exercise," she said.
The freedom of spinning along the river, among green hills or through a forest, and the satisfaction of reaching a goal, clears the mind and helps ward off depression.
This, in addition to the camaraderie and encouragement of sharing the sport with others, keeps many riders in the saddle.
"All this stuff keeps you younger and feeling good, not like a lump of lead," said Frannie Mervis, who bikes alone and with others in the Over The Hill Gang.
There are many things cyclists can do to ride comfortably and also reduce risks.
As with any exercise, older adults, especially those with conditions affecting their vision, balance or cardiovascular health, should check with their doctor before starting a biking routine.
Beginners should take it slow and focus on enjoying the activity, gradually working up to more challenge.
"Just set a goal every single day and try to push yourself a little further every time you go out," Epstein said.
Accessories and specialty bikes can make cycling possible for many.
For example, mirrors that hook on to handlebars, helmets or glasses can help people with neck or back strain. Wide tires, recumbent bikes or trikes can be more comfortable and safer for riders with sensitive balance.
Some physical therapy offices offer bike fitting services and suggestions for bike modifications to ease or prevent neck or low back pain, numbness and tingling in the hands and other discomforts, Kerr said.
Having a bike in good working condition and knowing how to operate that bike and do minor repairs can make the different between a miserable and great ride. This is where local bike shops are a great resource, said Robin Craigen, president of Routt County Riders, an advocacy group for local cyclists.
"The bikes today are able to do incredible things, but you need to learn how to use them to get the benefit of that," he said.
In addition to getting bikes serviced annually, it's a good idea for beginning riders to take advantage of bike shop clinics, which provide tips on skills such as braking, using gears and tackling obstacles on the trail, as well as how to change a flat tire and perform a basic tune up.
Self-sufficiency — carrying adequate water and food, wearing a helmet, gloves and proper clothing, carrying tools and supplies and being able to fix minor problems, can go a long way, especially on a backcountry road or trail.
Common sense can be a rider's best ally. Avoiding heavy traffic and busy routes, watching weather reports and obeying traffic laws and trail etiquette are just a few ways to reduce the risk of injury or worse while riding.
While traffic laws are leaning more in favor of cyclists, this should not lead riders to a blasé attitude on the road.
"You should always be considerate of other road users — remember, we (cyclists) are the vulnerable road users … you have to make smart decisions," Craigen said.
Tamera Manzanares writes for the Aging Well program and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Aging Well, a division of Northwest Colorado Visiting Nurse Association, is a community-based program of healthy aging for adults 50 and older. For more information, visit http://www.agingwelltoday.com or call 871-7676.