Bike Safety for Boomers
Cyclists of a certain age: Steer clear of crashes with these two-wheeler tips
Tooling around on two wheels is great exercise, a pleasant (and eco-friendly) way to get around and just plain fun. It also seems to be sending increasing numbers of bicycling enthusiasts to the hospital, as researchers from the University of California at San Francisco recently found. In the five years between 2008 and 2013, the incidence of serious cycling injuries increased by 120 percent. The most vulnerable body parts: the head and torso. The most vulnerable bike riders: baby boomers.
“The increase in injuries is likely a reflection of the change in the demographics of cyclists,” says Tom Sanford, MD, a co-author of the study. “Multiple sources have reported an increase in cycling participation in individuals older than forty-five, a population that has a higher propensity for injury compared with younger cyclists.”
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Cruisin' for a bruisin'?
It’s no wonder biking is popular with boomers. It’s less stressful to joints compared to jogging and has been shown to improve balance and leg strength, both of which diminish with age and contribute to the risk of falls among older folks.
However, aging brings on a number of physical changes that can affect cycling ability: diminished eyesight, slower reaction time and weaker bones and muscles. “Older people often aren’t as agile, flexible and quick as they were when they were young,” says Joseph Ciotola, MD, an orthopedic surgeon at Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore. “Older women, especially active ones who are thin, are more prone to osteoporosis, which increases their fracture risk from even minor falls.”
Accident-proof your bike ride
If you’re an older adult who loves to bike or would like to give cycling a whirl, there’s no reason you shouldn’t. (Check with your doctor if you haven't been active in awhile or ridden a bike since you were a kid.) Just play it safe.
Get strong — and stretchy. The stronger your muscles, the better able you'll be to control a bike. According to Harvard School of Public Health, resistance training will do the trick, so hit the gym regularly. Weight training also will shore up your bones and tendons so they're less vulnerable in a fall.
Flexibility is important too. The more flexible you are, the better able you'll be to recover from a fall. You can stay loose by doing general stretching exercises, yoga, foam rolling or movement-based activities like tai chi. Bonus: These activities will also maintain your body's range of motion and ability to perform daily tasks.
Wear a helmet. Head injuries from bicycle accidents can be devastating. Wearing a bike helmet has been shown to reduce the risk of head injury by 50 percent or more. To get the most protection, make sure your helmet fits snugly around your forehead, the side straps forming a Y just below your ear. Tighten the strap under your chin enough that opening your mouth widely causes the strap to tug. If your helmet gets banged up in any way, replace it: Once damaged, a bike helmet’s protective capabilities are compromised.
Don’t drink and ride. “It’s shocking how many severe bicycle-related injuries and fatalities involve alcohol consumption,” Sanford says. Treat your two wheels as you would your four — if you wouldn’t climb into the driver's seat of your car, you shouldn’t climb aboard your bicycle.
Make yourself visible. If you’ll be riding after dark, wear light-colored or (even better) reflective clothing. Outfit your bike with safety lights — white in front, red in the rear, just like a car. And follow the rules of the road so that cars and pedestrians aren’t startled by your sudden appearance going the wrong way down a one-way street or tooling along the sidewalk. If you need corrective lenses, wear them when you're cycling.
Stay on the trail. Whenever they’re available, use designated bike lanes and paths. They’re the best way to keep cars, bikes and pedestrians separate and safe. “If you look at places with high rates of cycling participation and low rates of cycling injuries, such as the Netherlands, it becomes clear that the key to reducing injuries is separating bicycles and cars,” Sanford says.
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