Exploring Human Potential

Why Older Men Should Swim, Not Cycle.

Posted on | September 2, 2015 | 8 Comments


Mike Magee

I live in West Hartford, CT, an affluent town with more than its’ share of Type A personalities. In a town such as this, people would rather not give in to aging, have access to a wide range of community services, and remain active.

Three cases in point are our award winning Cornerstone Aquatic Center, our indoor skating ring, and our integrated Reservoir System with its’ 30 miles of paved, and shared, walking and biking paths.

If you go to our skating ring, at any time, you are very unlikely to encounter skaters above the age of 55 – except rarely perhaps, a grandfather like me, whose love of his grandchildren is so extreme, that, with the encouragement of his wife, he ventures out on the ice with a four year dangling from either arm. But let me emphasize, this is highly unusual.

When it comes to aquatics, depending on day and time, use is far more inter-generational, from very young to very old, and heavily involves both men and women. I swim at least once a week, always the same number of laps. My goal is as much mental and spiritual, as it is physical. Mine is an emersion, similar I suppose to meditation or yoga. A video of me would show a half hour of slow-medium “crawl” – consistent, acceptable, but no one is signing me up for swim team. It is exercise, and I’m convinced does keep my upper body from completely drooping, but really, I do it because it helps put me in the right frame of mind, and makes me feel like I’ve at least accomplished something that day.
There are older, mostly male (3:1) swimmers who take it considerably more seriously than me. They wear Speedos and are racing the clock. They seem to arrive between 7:45 and 8:25 AM each day, and have a gear bag that includes hand cups, foot fins, and a wide range of toiletries. They are focused, serious, and committed.

Finally there’s the reservoir loops – some 30 miles of integrated paved trails that connect five different reservoirs, which provide a semi-natural setting for wildlife, but no access to boating, fishing, swiming, or other human activity. This is where my wife and I, each day, usually at 5 PM, weather permitting, walk for about 1 hour. The trails receive a moderate amount of use, more on weekends than on weekdays. At times you will see a three generational family walking along, laughing and talking, leisurely enjoying each others company. Rarely we’ll pass a couple our age. Infrequently we’ll see couples our children’s ages, and if so, they are working to teach a child to bike ride, or attempting to sooth a toddler trying to climb out of her stroller or catapult from the Bjorn pack.

The pathways are segregate by a vertical painted white line that separates the trail into thirds – 1/3 to the right and 2/3 to the left. Biking goes on the right, walking and jogging on the left. In theory, the system should quite simple protect the lives and limbs of most participants, except for two problems – the paths intersect with each other and also loop around the various reservoirs which creates some left/right confusion. And second, their is an oversupply of crazy type A, mostly male, mostly older (55 to 75) bike riders whose many objective appears to be to break speed records and escape the Grim Reaper. They universally overestimate their skill levels, judgement and reaction times, and underestimate the risks to themselves and all they pass along the way.

Think John Kerry, and his recent femur fracture – then multiple by 100, and insert a dizzying whirrrrring sound track, approaching blindly from behind, and you come close to our daily experience. Were this not bad enough, these aging male cyclists arrive at these protected trails by traveling the congested suburban roads shared by young and old alike. When I say they have absolute no concept of risk/benefit, I am sure you will agree.

So you will not be surprised that I was not surprised to read in the recent JAMA report that bicycle accidents are way up in the U.S. and that it’s mostly the result of older, male riders.

That report documented that over the past 15 years, injuries have risen almost 30% and resultant hospitalizations are up 120%. Those numbers were primarily driven by older males. Injuries in those over 45 during the study period, outpaced all others – up over 80%. Casual male cyclists outpace female cyclists (60%/40%). But in the sports cyclists category (think skin tight suits, pegged cycle shoes, and prostate injuring saddles) males own an 87% share.

I don’t agree with Trump on much – in fact, nothing – except perhaps this. To be speed cycling when you’re John Kerry’s age, is just plain stupid. He should take up swimming instead – with or without a Speedo- where there’s little risk of injuring himself or others.

For HealthCommentary, I’m Mike Magee


8 Responses to “Why Older Men Should Swim, Not Cycle.”

  1. Gerald Goodman
    September 2nd, 2015 @ 1:53 pm

    I’ve followed your column for many years. Your concluding paragraph on this one is a classic.

  2. Art Ulene
    September 2nd, 2015 @ 1:57 pm

    I’m convinced that guys like Kerry (and like the guide we use on our glacier climbs) are genetically different from you and me. They have an “adventure gene” (also known as a “thrill” gene… or “adrenaline” gene). They thrive on excitement… danger. It’s what FORCES them to climb Everest… to climb sheer rock faces without ropes…. and, yes, to run for the Senate. Twenty-five years ago, Priscilla and I participated in a charity race in Utah known as the Senator’s Cup. The feature match-up was John Kerry against John Heinz. They raced at astonishing speed (and with amazing talent and on the bare edge of control) to WIN. That’s all they cared about. You will NEVER get John Kerry off his bike (or, I suspect) his skis.

  3. Mike Magee
    September 2nd, 2015 @ 1:58 pm

    Thanks, Gerald!

  4. Mike Magee
    September 2nd, 2015 @ 2:00 pm

    Thanks, Art, for sharing this! Mike

  5. Denise Link
    September 2nd, 2015 @ 2:16 pm

    I could not agree with you more. I have the occasion to enjoy the Schuylkill Banks trail in center city Philadelphia as a walker. On most of my visits, I leave the trail feeling lucky to be alive due to the number of inconsiderate bicyclists of all ages (but mostly males) that silently speed up behind and pass me and my fellow walkers within very close range. I also notice that they routinely ignore the signs asking them to walk their bikes up and down the access ramps, entering the path at a very high speed. Another contributing factor to the accident rate is that a number of riders do not follow the traffic laws. There have been many occasions when I have observed cyclists of all ages (mostly male) who are traveling against traffic nearly hit by cars pulling out into traffic or making a turn. So it is not just the age of the rider, but also that they ignore traffic patterns and common courtesy that puts them and the rest of us at risk.

  6. Mike Magee
    September 2nd, 2015 @ 2:43 pm

    Thanks for your insights, Denise!

  7. Judy Salerno
    September 3rd, 2015 @ 9:19 am

    Great article. I will be sure to pass it on to my speed-demon, competitive male friends.

  8. Mike Magee
    September 3rd, 2015 @ 10:47 am

    Thanks, Judy!

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