Volunteers are Taking Seniors on Rickshaw Rides into Nature

Cycling Without Age is a global organization that pairs volunteers with older community members.

Nov 19, 2019

(Courtesy Cycling Without Age)

Fresh air and exercise do wonders for a person. But did you know that being out in nature comes with a host of health benefits? Spending time outdoors is a stress reducer, increase your levels of vitamin D, helps you sleep better and helps to boost your immune system. Going out in nature is so beneficial for people that doctors in the UK are writing prescriptions for it.

But getting out is difficult for many seniors who have mobility issues. And being stuck at home increases feelings of isolation and loneliness. Having outside company is really important for the elderly, so much so, that countries across Europe are starting chat check-out lanes and chat benches so people have someone to converse with.

Ole Kassow from Copenhagen, Denmark has managed to combine the health benefits of nature with providing companionship for seniors through his Cycling Without Age project.

Beginning in 2012, Kassow started taking older members of his community on rides in a rickshaw and the idea for the project was born.

"I saw an elderly gentleman sitting in front of a nursing home," Kassow said in an interview with Generations Working Together. "As usual, I was on my bike and came up with the idea that maybe he wanted to join me, and we could get to know each other. I rented a rickshaw and it took off from there. The man became my friend, his name is Thorkild.”

Kassow quickly saw how this idea could grow and help the elderly, the younger volunteers who would get exercise by peddling the rickshaw, and the community by people getting to know each other. After his first ride with Thorkild, he contacted the Copenhagen municipality and spoke to Dorthe Pederson who co-founded the organization with him.

Cycling Without Age works with municipalities, care homes, and corporations who help provide funding. And, according to the organization's website, anyone can sign up to take elderly people for rides, but they have to be trained on empty rickshaws first and have to practice with their team leaders first.

When Kassow founded Cycling Without Age, he never expected it to become a global movement, but it has. He told Generations Working Together  that once the organization was featured in a Ted Talk in 2014 and a BBC video has gone viral. There are 1,100-chapter locations, 1,500 rickshaws, and 10,000 pilots (team leaders) who pilot them.

Cycling Without Age has done some amazing work. In Canada, rickshaw rides have been used to help improve the lives of people with dementia.

"The bike fits perfectly with our vision of living well with dementia. For us, that means being socially active, physically active, and brain active and Cycling Without Age offers all those things,"  Stephanie Leclair, Executive Director, Alzheimer Society Sudbury-Manitoulin North Bay told Upworthy.

In Scotland where a chapter was formed in September 2017, the program has given, "a new lease on life to twins who have a combined age of 190," according to Ann Reid, a care home manager.

Almost all of the residents have been out on the trishaw and it has brought back many memories of days gone by when motorized transport was rare," she said.

“Sharing stories has been amazing and made staff think how hard life must have been in the 1940s and 50s when the only means of transport for most people was a bike. It was while on the trishaw [that] the funny stories kept coming as Nancy and Janet, who have rooms next door to each other, shared their secrets of the bike rides over the years."

Cycling Without Age is a program that works and can be easily implemented around the world. Rickshaws can be changed to surreys or even motorized golf carts where applicable. The benefits of nature and someone to talk to can never be understated.  

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BONNIE RIVA RAS, EDITOR & WRITER
Bonnie Riva Ras has dedicated her life to promoting social justice. She loves to write about empowering women, helping children, educational innovations, and advocating for the environment & sustainability.