Successful Aging: The benefits of a novel physical challenge
My husband, Randy, had been talking for months about getting a custom bike, and when he knocked out a respectable time in the Boulder Sunset Duathlon last month, he told me at the finish, “I need a faster bike.”
That was the second time in our 11-year marriage he had said that at the end of a race. It worked the first time in 2008, so there was no question what this year’s anniversary gift would be.
I almost got the same anniversary gift. Even though I’m not the cycling animal he is, I do love my bike and there are all kinds of biomechanical reasons a custom ride would be good for me. But as I thought it over, I decided to take another look at the elliptical bike I heard about a few years ago, the ElliptiGo.
As I studied the company’s website, I was impressed again with the idea of an outdoor activity that would provide a serious aerobic workout without the pounding of running. I also thought more about how standing to ride would be good for body alignment and focusing on core muscles. In the company’s videos, “ElliptiGoers’” postures appeared to be the same that Danny Dreyer teaches in Chi Running (chirunning.com), an approach that, along with other adaptations, has helped Randy run with less pain for the past couple of years.
My belief — backed up by research — that trying physical activities that challenge us in novel ways is good for aging bodies and brains also made me want to test ride the ElliptiGo. My short and sweet trial run at a dealership in Boulder was enough to seal the deal on my anniversary gift.
I’ve ridden my shiny red eight-speed ElliptiGo twice since bringing it home just over a week ago. Riding it is not difficult at all, but, as I expected, I had to get used to it. First, it weighs 40 pounds, twice as much as my regular bike, so I surprised myself by nearly tipping it over the first time I dismounted. Stepping up onto the foot platform after pushing off was unfamiliar and a little shaky the first couple of times. Cornering is not at all like it is on a regular bike.
I think I felt these and other differences more intensely than many people would have, maybe because of my body type — long torso, proportionately short legs — and maybe because I am naturally self-conscious about looking like a dork. Perhaps I felt the differences more because I think a lot about physical skills, ranging from simple, everyday movements to difficult athletic and artistic performances. But I have to admit my age may be a factor, too — it took two or three tries to convince my brain that this was going to be OK. And then it went way beyond OK.
I had an unconscious resistance to trying something new, but doing so was good for me physically and mentally. My brain created some new connections and made itself a few days younger as the Go and I became friends.
Randy tried the ElliptiGo, too, and said he can see how it could be fun and how it could be real exercise. So it will take him another try or two to get used to it. But he is a dedicated runner, and I think he will benefit from its aerobic challenge, as could runners of any age or speed. In fact, one of the Elliptigo’s inventors got the idea when injuries turned him into a former runner at age 32. Since running can be hard on joints and exacerbate structural and postural imperfections, though, it can cause problems that worsen with age. Bicycling is excellent cross training for runners, but the ElliptiGo provides a no-impact workout in a runner’s stance.
It has not seemed physically taxing while riding, but after each of first two outings, I was happily surprised at how tired I was. Yes, it was great exercise, and the second time it was also great fun.
ElliptiGos have been on the market for five years, and although I do not know anyone else who has one, my husband and some co-workers have seen a few of them around. But it is still a novel sight to most people I encounter on the Rio Grande Trail and around Carbondale, where I live.
So watch for me out there and try standing up to bike yourself. Or try another new and different physical activity. Your muscles and your mind will love it.
Look out, Carbondale Full Moon Cruiser Ride, here we come!
Angelyn Frankenberg is a wellness coach and writer. She has a master’s in physical education and an undergraduate degree in music. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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