by Dean Witherspoon   Dean's profile on LinkedIn  

Having reached the half-way point of my Saturday morning bike ride, I stopped to stretch hammies that were screaming at me to slow down. Across the parking lot I noticed an elderly gentleman nonchalantly lifting a couple of bikes off the trunk rack of his late ’90s Buick sedan. Bent over, attempting to reach toes I’ve not touched with straight legs in 20 years, I heard the unmistakable sound of a kickstand coming down behind me. I stood up to hear “Beautiful day for a ride” and said hello to Gene, dressed in a flannel shirt, jeans, and the New Balance™ walking shoes you see on men of a certain age.   

Indeed, it was a gorgeous day, and for the next couple of minutes Gene and I exchanged pleasantries. 

“Did you ride here from Midland?” asked Gene. 

“I did.” 

“That’s a long way,” said Gene as he looked in the general direction I came from (20 miles).

“Yeah, it feels longer than it should. Where are you headed?” I asked.  

“We’re (Gene and his wife, Esther) headed up to Clare.”

“Wow, that will be 20 miles round trip did you bring some water?” I inquired. Gene’s face suggested he might be in his early 70s and I wanted to be sure he had thought this through. 

“Yep, plenty of water. We try to do it at least once a week. That’s a nice looking bike you have,” Gene commented, nodding at my bike with his hands tucked in his back pockets. 

“Thank you. I just got it… I’m still getting used to it.”

Gene pointed to his bike a few feet away. “I bought that one when I was 80.” 

“80? Well, how old are you now?” I asked, somewhat in disbelief. 

“88” he said, matter-of-factly. 

“88? Whoa… good for you. I hope I’m still out here riding when I’m 88!” I said, suddenly feeling more than a little inadequate at some 30 years Gene’s junior.   

Seemingly less impressed than I was, Gene changed the subject: “Too bad you don’t have someone to ride with.” 

Reaching for my dangling ear buds, I replied “I like to listen to my music.” 

“Ahh… no one to argue with” he added with a sheepish grin as he glanced back at his wife still getting prepped for the ride. 

Our conversation lasted less than 5 minutes. But in my hour-long return ride, I reflected on what Gene taught me about personal well-being and what it could mean for your wellness program:

  • Strike up a conversation. I was stretching, he was waiting for his wife, so why not say hello? And he did it effortlessly, asking me about my ride, my bike, how long it took, where I was headed showing genuine interest in me. Wellness managers should look for more opportunities to create face-to-face participant interactions. Message boards are good, but there’s something inherently more satisfying, more uplifting about looking someone in the eye and connecting. 
  • Get outside and move. Gene bought a new bike at 80 and was doing a 20-mile ride at 88… routinely. Corporate fitness centers are great, but outdoor walking, jogging, and fitness trails are even better. Gear messaging and fun activities to the great outdoors. And read our white paper: A Healthy Dose of Nature Is Good for Business.  
  • Share the ride. I’m guessing bike rides are one of many pursuits these octogenarians shared. Having an exercise pal goes beyond accountability and reinforces social as well as emotional well-being. Wellness managers should consider an optional buddy component for every intervention. Not all want to pair up, but many are surprised and delighted at their deepened commitment and enjoyment when they share the challenge with a close friend or family member. View our SlideShare, Natalie’s Personal Journey to Well-Being
  • Have a sense of humor. There was nothing serious about Gene’s exercise program or demeanor. He was pleasant, lighthearted, and enjoying life in the moment with a ready quip for just about any occasion. For wellness managers, it’s a reminder that living happens without USDA Guidelines and CDC or ACSM exercise recommendations. Relax and have some fun.

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