Walking and cycling might become harder as you age, but its importance also increases in some ways.
The Commission on Aging’s 4:30 p.m. Tuesday meeting on the sixth-floor hearing room of the Public Service Center, 1300 Franklin St., will cover that topic with keynote speaker Dr. Jennifer Dill.
Dill is a professor of Urban Studies and Planning at Portland State University, and the director of PSU’s Transportation Research and Education Center. Her talk will outline the health benefits of walking and bicycling for older adults, as well as walking and cycling trends, and strategies to improve participation by older adults.
“What is particularly important for older adults is that by being mobile and getting out of the home, there can be improved social interactions, which can improve mental health and well-being,” Dill said. “A lot of times older adults can get isolated if they aren’t mobile and can’t get out. If we have ways where they are able to walk to places safely, it can make a big impact on social isolation.”
Walking doesn’t decrease as much as cycling does as we age. According to the 2017 National Household Travel Survey conducted by the U.S. Department of Transportation, about 75 percent of Americans had reported walking in the last week across all age ranges up to 65. Those 65 and older reported a drop to 68 percent. The threshold for the study was whether the person made one walking or bicycle trip of any length in the past week.
With cycling, the highest tally was 32 percent for those who biked in the last week. That was the younger than 18 age range. The percentage falls to 9 percent for ages 18-34 and 35-54, and 8 percent for ages 55-65. Only 4 percent of Americans 65 and older cycled in the last week.
“There are some indications that there’s been some growth in bicycling amongst older adults, but the levels are still very low,” Dill said.
Dill said it’s important for cities to play a role in promoting active lifestyles through infrastructure design. That holds true for all age groups, but there are specific ways movement can be aided for older adults as well. Some of those things are having countdowns on pedestrian signals, benches on trails for rest, and more curb ramps. Social or buddy biking programs can promote exercise and socialization at the same time.
Dill mentioned the Clark County Health Department is particularly good at coordinating with municipalities to make sure the area is walkable and bikeable. She said the Netherlands, Denmark and Germany’s separate and safe biking infrastructure makes cycling rates stay consistent across age ranges, and that around 15 percent of all trips by adults in the Netherlands and Denmark are made by bike.
“You can see in environments where you provide a nice, safe infrastructure for people to bicycle, then age doesn’t matter quite as much,” Dill said.