Cycling for Strength & Social Interaction
Ninety-four-year-old Priscilla lives in a retirement community and suffers from dementia and failing eyesight. Her favorite activity? Cycling. Priscilla is joined by her daughter, 64-year-old Harriet, who, despite owning her own business, takes time off each week to join her mother for a 4- to 5-mile bike ride.
This mother-daughter pair is part of All Out Adventures’ senior cycling program, which attracts about 30 older adults each week during the summer to ride the Norwottuck Rail Trail in Hadley, Mass.
“It’s a much more rewarding interaction than taking a parent or grandparent to a doctor’s appointment,” said Karen Foster, executive director of All Out Adventures. “Our participants are excited to return again and again to ride and to socialize with each other.”
While many of the program’s participants are in their 60s and 70s, there’s also a strong cohort of older adults in their mid-80s to early 90s. “Most are independent and fairly active,” said Foster, “but haven’t ridden in the last 10 years because they didn’t feel they could hop on a traditional two-wheel bike anymore.”
At All Out Adventures, seniors have a variety of bike options to match their abilities and needs. Priscilla rides a recumbent-style tricycle while another cyclist, 89-year-old Hattie, chooses a two-wheel bike with a low frame since it’s difficult for her to swing her leg up over a high bar.
The trained staff members understand the vulnerabilities of participants, including those with poor balance, osteoporosis and other challenges. “Everyone here makes safety a priority,” said Foster. “Staff members support older adults with transfers on and off the cycle and will companion ride as needed. For many of our younger staff, this program has positively shaped their views of seniors as well.”
The program has been so successful that participants have come to rely on it for their regular exercise and social interaction. “Our senior cyclists were asking us what they were going to do in the winter, so we decided to launch a snowshoeing option,” said Foster. The snowshoeing program, which runs twice a week in the winter, quickly attracted 15 to 20 seniors.
This story was published originally in the Tufts Health Plan Foundation’s 2012 Annual Report.