A three-year study led by an academic from Oxford Brookes University will investigate how older people can be encouraged and supported to cycle into their old age, helping them retain their health, fitness and independence.
While cycling accounts for 23 per cent of all journeys for people aged 65 and older in the Netherlands, 15 per cent in Denmark and 9 per cent in Germany, it represents only 1 per cent of such journeys in the UK.
Starting in October, the £1.4 million research project will investigate how the built environment and technology including e-bikes could be adapted for the needs of older people.
It is thought that the major barriers are fear of injury and the physically demanding aspect of the activity – which could be overcome by improving infrastructure and developing assistive technology.
Tim Jones, Senior Research Fellow of the Department of Planning at Oxford Brookes, is leading the research, which will follow people approaching later life (50-59) and those aged over 60 in Bristol, Oxford, Reading and Cardiff.
Participants will be interviewed about their cycling history, and observed as they make familiar journeys by bike. There will also be a study of those given new electric bikes to measure whether their use improves health and independence.
The result of this will be the development of a short documentary video and toolkit for policy makers and practitioners advising on how the built environment and technology could be designed to support and encourage cycling amongst current and future older generations.
Dr Jones said: “It is a common misconception that older people don’t cycle or have no desire to do so. But having the option to ride a bicycle is a fantastic way of maintaining independence and community connections and in so doing potentially benefiting physical and mental health and wellbeing.
“The aim of this research is to better understand how built environment and technological design is shaping the willingness and ability of older people to cycle, their experiences of the built environment and ultimately how this affects wellbeing.”
Dr Emma Street, Lecturer in Real Estate and Planning, Henley Business School, University of Reading commented: “Reading’s involvement in the programme along with our partners will provide a boost to the older residents wanting to benefit from travelling by bike.
“A planned website will host an interactive toolkit based on older peoples' perception of how the towns and technologies could be designed to support and promote cycling amongst current and future older generations.
“We will be continually updating the website with video clips and news and findings as they come in and invite residents to contribute with their own experiences.”
A University of Sydney pilot study earlier this year found that older people (aged 49 -79) who had cycled in the preceding month performed significantly better on measures of decision time and response time than those who had not, and those who cycled at least an hour a week showed significant improvements in balance and single-leg standing, making them less at risk of falls.
Cycling is a non weight-bearing exercise that is less stressful on the joints than walking or running, and long-term studies have shown that it reduces risk of cardiovascular disease, several types of cancer, and life-threatening obesity.
In a recent study from the Netherlands, it was found that the risk of traumatic injuries (on average 5-9 days of life lost to these) was far outweighed by the benefits of increased physical activity (3-14 months of life gained).
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