For the past ten years, I’ve been a physiotherapist at Mineral Springs Hospital in Banff, Alberta; Canada. Witnessing long term care residents live a mostly sedentary life did not resonate well with me. I saw the effects repeatedly: deteriorating functionality and simple lack of satisfaction with daily living. Some people would beg me to take them outside and, once there, they would lament that they were no longer able to walk around and enjoy their surroundings. Despite often severe disabilities, it was obvious that residents still craved opportunities to be active outdoors.
In 2015 I attended an Exercise Prescription and Aging conference. There I learned some hard data about Canada’s fast-aging population. According to Statistics Canada, the number of 85-year-olds will more than double between 2016 and 2036. By 2036, 62 percent of all healthcare spending will be on those aged over 65. Furthermore, while many adults are healthy in their later years, there is also an increasing number of seniors living with fraility. Frailty comes with more complex health challenges. Both social connectivity and physical activity are necessary components for healthy aging for any adult over 65 years, whether or not they are frail.
For physiotherapists, physical activity for disease prevention and health maintenance is a best practice treatment intervention. At Mineral Springs Hospital, we had been using cycle ergometers in our physiotherapy gym since 2012. The older adults using these stationery exercise bikes had a range of disabilities: Parkinson’s disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, generalised and severe osteoarthritis, supranuclear palsy, severe hemiplegia with aphasia, types 1 and 2 diabetes, coronary artery disease, high blood pressure, dementia, osteoporosis, post pelvic fracture, post-fall injuries and many other co-morbidities. Yet as they used the cycle ergometer, I noticed an interesting phenomenon. Despite their poor gait quality and inability to walk very far, the quality of their leg movements while pedalling was astoundingly high. Not only that, the residents loved it!
All of the above experiences and information helped me decide to become an influencer … to create an opportunity for all adults to be physically and socially active outdoors. My ‘light bulb’ moment came while reading an article about an innovative dementia care village in the Netherlands, called ‘Hogewey‘. There was a picture of an e-bike that seats three people plus a pilot. On this bike, everyone gets to pedal, as much or as little as ability permits. It provides more residents with an opportunity to bike outdoors at one time, as well as promoting social connectivity and physical activity. We decided to raise the money to purchase our very own community e-bike.
By the end of January 2016, our team had raised $28,000 through generous donations from the Hospital Auxilliary, the Banff Seniors Centre and local community foundations. In March that year, we ordered a bike from the Netherlands. Our Mineral Springs rehabilitation team collaborated with the Town of Banff’s Senior’s Co-ordinator and a local Primary Care Network (a professional organisation for family physicians promoting healthful programmes), and Big Red Ride was born.
Big Red Ride has just finished its third season. There are four different programmes running in the community. The Town of Banff’s role is to store the bike and co-ordinate volunteers. The Primary Care Network uses the bike several afternoons a week as part of their Active Living Program. Our Mineral Springs rehabilitation team uses it several mornings each week, riding with long term care and acute care residents and patients. Banff family physicians, physiotherapists and other healthcare professionals are given referral slips and encouraged to prescribe rides for their patients.
With the introduction of e-bikes and the recognised health benefits they can provide, cycling culture in cities and communities across Canada is growing. Our Big Red Bike programme has grown organically in reponse to the needs of adults of all ages who are enduring chemotherapy, disease or illness. Our team has witnessed first-hand the joy, freedom and playfulness expressed by the older adult residents and other adults who ride together on the Big Red Ride in Banff. This affirms our beliefs that the timing is perfect to include our aging population in the increasingly popular culture of biking.
Annie Tredray is a New Zealand-trained physiotherapist who lives in Canmore and works in Banff, AB; Canada.
To start a Big Red Ride in your community, contact Annie through the Big Red Ride website.