John Crouch is not quite ready to go gentle into that good night. To celebrate his 80th birthday, he cycled the length of Vancouver Island and back — a solo journey of more than 1,000 kilometres that took 10 days.
It was not his first adventure. Since turning 50, he has made it a tradition to run or cycle at least as many kilometres as his age. He marked his 70th birthday with a 2,500-kilometre bicycling trek from Whitehorse home to Victoria, which he chronicled in the book Six Highways to Home.
“Cycling for me is part addiction and part bliss,” Crouch said. “There’s no secret on how to age well. It’s about doing things you truly enjoy — vigorously and continuously. It’s just not good enough to take the dog for a walk. ”
The results are plain to see. The spry octogenarian has the pronounced quadriceps and calf muscles of a long-distance cyclist.
His quest for healthy aging began with a desire to not follow in the footsteps of his parents, both life-long smokers who suffered from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
“I still remember my mother, who was 62 years old at that time, gasping for air after we took a short walk,” said Crouch, who was born and raised in Leicester, England.
“It was such a shame, as she was quite athletic when she was younger. I recall her winning a race, convincingly, against the neighbourhood moms when I was young.”
He became active physically, practising the theory of a sound mind in a sound body throughout his life. A competitive long-distance runner, he has completed numerous marathons, duathlons and triathlons.
He turned to cycling 30 years ago, embracing the discipline as his left knee voiced its displeasure at being subjected to the constant pounding of the pavement necessary in running. Crouch now wears a do-it-yourself elastic sleeve on his knee when he cycles.
He regularly rides with a cadre of fellow cyclists for companionship and camaraderie.
“I ride with people younger than me because it is a stimulus to me to keep up,” he said.
“For them, who have never seen anybody older than them as active as me, they see my fitness as kind of where they hope to be when they get older.”
Dr. Chris Watt, a friend and fellow Tripleshot Cycling club member, has followed Crouch’s progress over the years.
A family doctor, Watt has an interest in healthy aging, and sees Crouch’s life journey as personally meaningful and inspiring.
“I am fascinated in finding out how some people manage to age skilfully,” Watt said.
“Chronologically, they may be a certain age, but, biologically, they could be five to 20 years younger.
“It’s also not a function of genetics. Too often, people resign from pursuing their health, citing genetics or age. They disuse, abuse or misuse their bodies. In truth, simple low-tech physical activity, such as running or cycling, can add years to your life — and life to your years.”
In order for it to be effective, Watt said, people should make physical activity a cornerstone habit.
A healthy body almost invariably leads to a healthy mind, he said.
“What’s good for the body is good for the brain — the two are interlinked,” Watt said. “Research shows the brain’s pituitary gland produces a growth hormone when we exercise.”
Crouch plans to continue cycling and fundraising for the Parkinson Society British Columbia in honour of his nephew, Richard Cox, who had the disease diagnosed when he was 34.