UK lag behind Europe in supporting cycling among the older population.
The population across Europe is ageing as people are living longer and the birth rate is falling. Policy makers are looking at systematic approaches to support and encourage people to stay active for longer in an effort to reduce end of life morbidity and the wider impact on national health and care services.
Promoting and prolonging cycling among an ageing population is one way of achieving this, but the UK is lagging behind other European countries with just 1% of cycle journeys in the UK made by over 60’s, compared to 23% in The Netherlands, 15% in Denmark and 9% in Germany.
This is one of the findings of a three-year study which set out to investigate how older people in the UK experience cycling and how this affects independence, health and wellbeing.
The cycle BOOM study led by Oxford Brookes University involved 240 participants across Oxford, Bristol, Reading and Cardiff. These were a mix of non-cyclists, current cyclists and also a group of older cyclists who wished to re-engage with cycling after a break and who took part in an eight-week ‘cycling and wellbeing’ trial designed to investigate their experience and measure the impact on their mental and physical health.
Following a short cycling assessment and advice programme, participants pledged to cycle outdoors for at least 30 minutes three times a week over an 8-week period and to keep a diary of their experience. Half used an e-bike loaned to them through the project.
The majority of participants embraced using the e-bike, many cycling more than the required 90 minutes per week. Those who had difficulty walking or riding a conventional pedal cycle because of physical limitations were particularly enthusiastic. The sheer enjoyment and thrill of e-biking was a recurrent theme. Power assist was appreciated because it helped riders to tackle hills and make more frequent and longer journeys.
There was a feeling that the e-bike offered a certain degree of freedom and flexibility to move around whilst providing some form of exercise. Participants often commented that they had replaced some short journeys that they would have otherwise made by car.
Whilst these results showed that cycling has the potential to improve physical and mental health in the older population, participants reported that a number of factors including poor and unsupportive infrastructure and fear of injury from other traffic, had a negative impact on their cycling experience.
Dr Tim Jones, Reader at the School of the Built Environment, Oxford Brookes University, who led the study said: “Our research has demonstrated that older people who currently cycle, or who have tried cycling, recognise the positive benefits it can make to their health and wellbeing.