Sara Godwin

Ponce de Leon, Fitness, & the Fountain of Youth

In Baby Boomers, Birding, Fitness, Florida, Health, Travel, Wildlife on June 21, 2012 at 2:31 am

Adjusting the bike to the rider for a custom fit

Ponce de Leon believed that hidden somewhere in Florida was the fountain of youth.  If, by ‘fountain of youth’, he meant that you could drink the water and remain young, he was wrong.  If, on the other hand, he meant that  you could go to Florida and recapture the physical fitness of youth, he was right.  The essential difference is that while you can’t drink your way to youth in Florida — or any place else —  there are  a number of things you can do in Florida that will stave off some of the less attractive aspects of aging.  For example, loss of muscle tone, flexibility, mobility, painful  joints (as in hips and knees), and excess weight. What’s Florida got that makes this miracle possible?  Lots of lovely weather, which makes being outdoors a very pleasant place to be; Citrus County boasts 264 days of sunshine a year.  That’s a lot of Vitamin D. Plus the fact that along the Gulf Coast, Florida is blessedly flat.  Think Citrus, Hernandez, and Pasco Counties.  Now add in recumbent bikes.  Voila! Fitness forever.

Here’s how it has worked:  Baby Boomers were the first TV generation, and among the best-educated, which allowed them to have desk jobs as opposed to working manual labor jobs. Desk jobs + TV = Sedentary . And Baby Boomers have cars which allowed them to drive to work rather than walk.  Desk jobs + TV + cars = More Sedentary.    Forgive the pun, but don’t think the Baby Boomers took all this sitting down. No, a great many of them took up jogging or running as a way of combatting a sedentary lifestyle.  While healthy exercise can be highly beneficial,  jogging on paved surfaces resulted in a startling increase in joint damage which led to a truly shocking increase in hip, knee, and ankle surgeries. A great many Baby Boomers now find themselves facing hip and knee replacements, or worse, the loss of mobility . That’s a vicious cycle that can take them right back to a  sedentary lifestyle. (I’m not even going to get into high-calorie fast-food and processed food diets, or their consequences, including obesity, heart disease, high blood pressure, and a host of other unpleasant subjects. No, we are going to stick with the solution rather than the problem here.)

The key to achieving healthy fitness is low-impact exercise. Walking briskly is one way to do it; swimming laps is another, and so is recumbent biking.

Regis Hampton, the owner of Hampton’s Edge Trailside  Bicycles, faced this dilemma after an accident left him with a  serious hip injury.  A lifelong bike builder — he started repairing and rebuilding bikes at the ripe old age of 11 — he realized he had to  find a way to build and strengthen his leg and thigh muscles without interfering with the healing of the hip bone.  He built himself a recumbent bike, and the rest is history.  The muscles healed strong and flexible, and  Hampton’s Edge Trailside  Bicycles opened its doors at 8294 East Orange Avenue in Floral City, FL (352/419-4809) along the Withlacoochee State Trail, 46 miles of paved trail that  runs through Citrus, Hernandez, and Pasco Counties.

Recumbent bikes aren’t at all like what were called ‘two-wheelers’ when I was a kid.  They’re stable, so you don’t need to wonder if you can still balance a bike.  They’re as comfortable as a good armchair, so  getting ‘saddlesore’ isn’t even an issue. They’re easy to steer.  Best of all, they’re great good fun.  The fact that recumbent bikes provide healthy, low-impact exercise is a fringe benefit to the fun.

Regis led our group, which ranged in age from 23 to pushing 70, down the Withlacoochee Trail and back, about five miles.  The Trail is part of the national Rails To Trails program, converting abandoned railroad tracks and right-of-ways  to multi-use hiking and biking trails, safe and separate  from car traffic. Lined with a full complement of Florida’s oaks (Quercus spp.), scuppernong (fox grape) vines, and roadside wildflowers, the green hedgerows function as perfect cover for birds and native wildlife.  Exotic creatures included a farmyard of llamas. Wildlife sightings ranged from a spectacular piliated woodpecker (prototype for Woody the Woodpecker) to a scattering of squirrels.

Let us pause a moment to raise a small song of praise to the squirrels and the jays. (Florida has several native jays, including the Florida Scrub Jay which is rare enough to qualify as a life list bird if you’re a serious birder.) Why praise  jays? Because they and the squirrels are nature’s foresters,  busily burying the acorns that into mighty oaks will grow, an essential element of the great North American hardwood forest, a forest  that once covered much of the eastern third of the United States.

Along the Withlacoochee Trail, a local octogenarian has devoted his retirement years to building bluebird houses that he personally sets into the center strip green space.  One box we peeked in had a nest with five eggs.

On the ride back Regis and I discussed how useful recumbent bikes  could be for our aging population in terms of  improved health, increased mobility, reduced pain,  and less expense.  While recumbent bikes must be custom-fitted to the rider, they’re still probably less costly than the panoply of prescription pain-killers and mobility devices insurance companies cover for people with joint problems.  Wouldn’t it be cool if health insurance paid for a bike that solved those problem?  And wouldn’t it be even cooler if Ponce de Leon turned out to be right since Florida really can offer the fitness of youth?

Thumbs up for recumbent biking!
Ed Caum photos

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  1. Glad you included the picture of a recumbent bike. I wasn’t at all sure I was thinking of the right vehicle. But . . . Can you really see well enough to steer safely? Im concerned my head would be too far back. and how do they brake? Are they any good on rough surfaces?

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