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When Physical Ability Changes, Do We Hold Back or Forge Ahead?

By Mary Lou Harris August 31, 2022 Lifestyle

These things seem to happen in a series. As I write this, I realize not everyone in their late 60s or 70s has a fascination with sport or movement. But stay with me, because I think my musings could apply to any pastime, hobby or activity that gives us joy.

I have noticed that first one, then another of my bicycling friends have shared concerns about continuing to cycle as hard as they have in the past. It’s not physical pain holding them back, nor is it advice of their doctors.

Let Me Talk in More Detail

One of my friends had a bike accident a few years ago. It was the bike itself that was the problem as the fork broke while she was riding, which ended with her thrown face-down on the side of the road. Since that time, she is still avoiding riding with the friends she rode with for years, doing long-distance rides raising funds for a number of causes. They miss her in their bike group, she misses them, but she continues to hold back.

Another friend who cycled with a group of women for years has begun to worry about her balance. She recently sought to alleviate this concern by buying a step-through bike, which looks really sporty, by the way. She is comfortable with the bike, but still feels she couldn’t keep up with her former group. So, she no longer participates in their group rides.

Both scenarios make me sad. Both of these lovely women feel they would be holding their groups back because they are uncomfortable with the previous pace they all shared. Both women in their late 60s and early 70s are uncomfortable enough that they are separating themselves from the very friend groups they have exercised and socialized with for years.

I am not a cyclist myself, but I do understand the power of regularly exercising with a group of friends you have bonded with through that exercise. I have done many Saturday morning runs with the same group of people for years. Even though most of them are roughly 10 years younger than me, for years I didn’t have any difficulty keeping pace with them.

How to Forge Ahead

Recently that has changed. I have worked around it by beginning my run earlier, running a few miles with them, then agreeing to meet at the same time for our typical coffee stop. Even so, it is hard to realize that I am no longer fully experiencing being a part of that pack.

On the other hand, I have two friends who have not held back. One of them took a tough fall off her bike recently, leaving her with a black eye and numerous bruises. Undeterred, she has been doing mountain trail biking through the summer. Another friend who had a fall (while running) that led to a long break in her training, instead began deep water swimming and has developed another group of friends with that activity.

I’m simply pondering how we as women approaching (or having past) the 70-year mark, deal with changes to our activity level, whether through injury or simply the slowing down with age. And how we deal with how those changes may impact our involvement with groups of friends who have been a part of our lives through those activities.

As I indicated at the beginning of this article, while my examples involve changes in our ability to maintain the same level of physical activity, it’s my assumption the same is true for many of us in this age range who enjoy the passion of activity with friends.

If you have been a member of a sewing circle, knitting group or quilter, have you experienced changes where you consider stepping back from activity with that group of women? Has anyone experienced changes in eyesight or hand mobility through arthritis or other debilitating changes?

At this time in life, many of us have already experienced the loss of friends who for years were an important part of our “friends” circle. As we approach our 70s, how do we best maintain friendships with those friends who share our passions, our joys, our accomplishments, our secrets, sometimes for decades?

Let’s Have a Conversation:

Should we allow a difference in ability level separate us from that friendship circle? How can we maintain our place and keep those important friendships alive? What have you tried?

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Check out the Alinker if you are worried about balance issues while walking.

Mary Lou Harris

Polly, I looked at their website and this is an interesting device. I have not yet seen one on the streets or sidewalks where I live, but I’m guessing it won’t be long.

Cindy Williams

Great inspirational article! My husband and I purchased pedal assist ebikes last year and have ridden over 700 miles together on paved bike paths. We don’t use the pedal assist feature on every ride, but just knowing you have it on the bike will get you out and riding distances you never dreamed that you could. It has been a game changer for our physical activities!

Mary Lou Harris

You’ve expanded your physical horizons. Would you ever have thought we can do this now? I recently spent a couple of weeks staying near a bike path. There was a bike rental shop across the street from one of the intersections where e-bikes can be rented and there are several charging stations along the path there as well. I haven’t tried one yet (more of a runner than a cyclist) but I likely will in the future.


I go out cross country skiing with my much younger friend. We start out together and go for an hour. Needless to say she goes further and faster but we end up together back at the car. It worked perfectly all last winter and I can’t wait to do it again this winter. I also do a TRX class with a variety of ages myself being the oldest, you do what you can and trainer motives for me. I’m 76 and have one knee replacement , not going to let my age or ability stop me from participating. There is also downhill ski with the grandkids. Love it all!

Mary Lou Harris

Cherry, your x-country outings with your friends sounds similar to my leaving early runs with friends. We generally return to our start point about the same time. Part of the challenge is finding new ways to work things out. I’ve downgraded my skiing to snowshoeing, which I have always loved just as much so it’s fine. Have a great upcoming season in the snow!

A Shively

Thanks for raising this interesting point, Mary Lou. Having had a knee replacement in March, I am still finding the rehab slow and frustrating, though swimming this summer has really helped. Margaret, I LOVE that sporty walker, you look great together! Your positive approach and finding ways to still keep moving, is a real inspiration.

Mary Lou Harris

I think you hit it just right with finding ways to still keep moving. Maybe this will be the ultimate use of our creativity, thinking way out of the box to continue enjoying our passions.

Margaret Patterson

✨💖✨I urge anyone feeling limited by pain, balance issues, or every other annoying age related issues to drive on. I have COPD, and balance has become a safety issue for me. I missed walking the many trails we have in my area. I miss bicycling. Heck, I live on a gravel road! To keep my airways open, I have a very small, battery operated, purse/pack sized nebulizer. Absolutely liberating. I don’t need O2 yet, but there are small, portable O2 packs.

First my husband had to convince me to stop sulking and just try a walker. Then we had to find a walker that could actually get me back outdoors. I have a Trionic Veloped, literally an all-terrain walker. See the attached photos for that.

Now my husband and I are considering a tricycle for me. Will I be dreaming of biathlons, racing, hill busting? No, but there are bike touring trips with support vans, so you can enjoy your tour for as far as you can. No pressure.

I draw, paint, and dabble in more arts and crafts than I have room for. I’ve had to find ways to accommodate my crabby, cranky hand or alternatives to continue my art and creative spirit. Enter my iPad Pro. When my hands are shaking a bit, I can adjust the paintbrushes in the program to correct that. There are ways to continue physical activity. Search for products to help productivity.

Just don’t give up.


Margaret, your comment is heartening and informative. Your all-terrain walker looks really stable. I have seen men and women using tricycles on a paved path near me. They have an area on the rear where goods can be stored – great for riding off to the grocery store and picking up a few things. Thanks for offering your resolutions (and your resolve).

The Author

Mary Lou Harris is a proponent of active living, community volunteerism and inquisitive travel. After a post age 60 retirement from a career in public service, she expanded those interests to include ultra-trail running, hiking and extended-stay travel. She can be contacted through her website or on Twitter at @stillarunner.

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