To mark International Day of Older Adults on 1st October, Wigan resident Deb West explains the role active travel plays in her life, and why it’s so important both for individual health and a greener planet.
Active travel is something Deb consciously plans into her daily life. ‘If I get together with a friend for coffee, we meet up on our bikes first to cycle there - making exercise and our journey part of our time together’ she explains.
‘I also go to the local gym and, when weather permits, I travel there by bike - I’m going there anyway, so I may as well get some more exercise in on my journey!’ smiles Deb. ‘A few of us older adults from the gym have started to cycle there if we can. I don’t feel confident on my bike if it’s rainy and wet, but in these cases I’ll walk instead of drive. There’s always an active option.’
Despite this, Deb recognises active travel can be problematic for some older adults. ‘My husband has arthritis,’ she explains. ‘This can make some types of physical activity difficult for him. To overcome this, he’s become a volunteer walk leader at a council-led programme called Be Well Wigan, providing guided walks to get people walking and cycling. It’s a supportive group that gives comfort to older adults getting into their walking stride and growing their confidence.’
Deb also explains the impact of older adult active travel on future generations. ‘When my grandson is here, we always go for a walk,’ she explains. ‘He’s not quite big enough to walk far, but we always park with the intention of going further on foot, such as parking up for a stroll down the river to feed the ducks. And I’m looking forward to taking him on a bus when he’s ready for it. We’ll be getting off a stop or two earlier than we need to, as I think it’s important for older adults to introduce increased walking stamina from a young age.’
Since childhood, Deb has always believed that you leave the car at home and walk or cycle, if you can. ‘In fact, I often find it much easier to walk than drive,’ Deb says. ‘Parking in local towns can be a real challenge, so I always walk to the local shops.’
‘I try and do the supermarket shop less frequently, as it’s a challenge to carry everything home without a car,’ she continues. ‘My husband and I haven’t quite reached bus pass stage. Yet when we do, we intend to use the bus much more frequently for these trips.’ The pandemic has made Deb a little unsure about using public transport, yet in time she hopes her generation will be happy to take buses again more frequently. ‘Perhaps people could walk to the shops and take the bus home with their heavier bags,’ she suggests. ‘Also, getting off a stop earlier where possible increases both activity and environmental benefit.’
The importance of looking after the environment has always been a driver for Deb’s enthusiasm for active travel, so this year’s International Day of Older Adults theme, ‘older and greener’, truly matters to her. ‘As a science teacher in the early 1980s, I taught pupils about climate change when it was a fairly new concern,’ Deb explains. ‘I’ve always tried to reduce pollution by limiting the use of the car. If driving is necessary, I’ll park further away and walk to split up my journey. I often park by the canal network and walk into Wigan, exploring the lovely countryside we have right on our doorstep.’
Greener transport is also a great way of making active travel even more accessible to older adults. ‘I don’t believe older adults need to use their cars as much as they do,’ says Deb. ‘Cycling is a great option, especially now electric or power-assisted bikes are available if pedalling is a challenge. They don’t require much resistance, but they’re still a mode of active transport that’s a lot greener and healthier than sitting in a car!’
‘It’s all about starting small and building up,’ Deb concludes. ‘As an older adult, it’s easy to overstretch yourself, and any niggle can put you off active travel. Set realistic promises: cycling once a week, parking a bit further away from your destination if the weather’s nice, and getting off the bus just one stop earlier. Active travel is within your capabilities. It’s not all or nothing, there’s something every older adult can do to keep moving for improved health and a greener planet.’
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