In recent years numerous researchers have documented the benefits of physical activity for older adults and have provided guidelines for safe, effective fitness-programming (Clark, 1996; Foret & Clemons, 1996; Kluge & Savis, 2001). Terri tory rarely explored, however, is outdoor adventure recreation for older adults. Recreation directors, outfitters, and older adults themselves seldom consider outdoor adventure activities as an option for enhancing general well-being or specific fitness areas such as cardiovascular endurance, strength, flexibility, and mobility. This author contends that outdoor adventure provides a myriad of benefits for older adults and recommends that outdoor adventure programming--activities such as sea-kayaking, white-water rafting, snowshoeing, and rock climbing--be developed for an older adult clientele. This article will emphasize the need to understand the diversity of this population and describe some common barriers and the strategies to overcome them. Special attention will be paid to how to foster emotional as well as physical safety.
Benefits of Outdoor Adventure Recreation
Outdoor adventure activities take place in natural environments, require physical effort, and involve an element of excitement or risk (Priest, 1999). Canoeing, kayaking, mountaineering, rock climbing, cycling, skiing, and snowshoeing are examples of outdoor adventure activities. A characteristic of adventure activities is what Horwood (1999) calls "energetic action." Energetic action requires participants to stretch themselves and "dig deeply into their resources of strength and will" (p. 10). Outdoor adventure activities are most often delivered by parks and recreation departments, community centers, YMCAs, and private outfitters in the form of a trip or a course. Outdoor adventure provides many challenges--physical, mental, and emotional--and these challenges often result in benefits ranging from increased fitness levels to increased self-sufficiency, connection to others, and mental clarity (Pohl, Borrie, & Patterson, 2000). Specifically, Pohl et al. believe that while there is variation among participants and from one wilderness trip to another, fundamental characteristics and benefits of wilderness recreation include escape from norms, everyday demands, and distractions; challenge and survival, both physical and mental; opportunities to learn new skills; recognition and awe of nature's beauty (feeling connected); and solitude (isolation, time to focus, mental revitalization).
Adventure challenge programs or courses are different from outdoor adventure activities. Challenge courses are a combination of low and high "elements," constructed in trees or gymnasiums, using ropes, cables, lumber, and hardware. Challenge courses focus on creating personal growth and change (Hirsch, 1999). Similar to outdoor adventure activities, many skills learned by participants can be used in daily life (Pohl et al., 2000; Sugerman, 1999). While information provided in this article relates primarily to outdoor adventure recreation, it has application to adventure challenge programming as well.
Aging Theory and the Outdoors
American culture places little value on aging. Outdated theories perpetuate the belief that adults over age 50 are "over-the-hill" and "past their prime." Family, friends, the medical establishment, and even older adults often buy into these messages and apply them to physical activity. They conjecture that being physically active is either not worth the effort or, in the case of outdoor adventure recreation, is dangerous.
Not all aging theories, though, focus on disengagement and decline. The gerotranscendence theory, for example, believes that positive changes occur throughout one's lifetime. Change, or gerotranscendence, is viewed as growth, not decline, and is characterized by moving forward and outward rather than by turning inward and withdrawing, as disengagement theory suggests (Shroots, 1996). Gero-transcendence implies a redefinition of reality--a shift in the perception of time and space, changes in the meaning of life, a disappearing fear of death, and an increase of communion with nature and the universe (Tornstam, 1997). If gerotranscendence theory is correct, it is possible that individuals who had little or no prior interest or experience with outdoor adventure activities may become more interested in participation as they age. A disappearing fear of death may make them more willing to pursue risk, while an increased appreciation for nature may draw them to the wilderness.
The outdoors, or wilderness itself, can significantly affect an individual's personal growth and sense of enjoyment. Powch (1994) contends that there is an inherent aspect of wilderness experiences that transcends the benefits of a typical fitness class. Powch portrays wilderness as offering "a sense of belonging and being 'in place'" (p. 19). Kiewa (1994) also articulates the value of connecting with nature. She believes the perceived and real dangers that are a part of adventure create an intensity of feeling that can profoundly affect peoples' lives. Specifically, feelings of elation created by pursuing (and overcoming) risk can create meaning (Henderson, Glancy, & Little, 1999) and "restore a sense of balance and proportion" to people's lives (Kiewa, 1994, p. 32).
Given the myriad benefits of outdoor adventure activities, what can outdoor recreation leaders do to understand and meet the needs of older adults' as they relate to outdoor activities? The remainder of this article focuses on how outdoor adventure leaders can create a physically and emotionally safe environment for older adults.
In order to attract older adults to outdoor adventure programming and to provide them with safe, meaningful experiences, an understanding of the target population is important. The "older population" in this article is defined as 55 years of age and older, the distinction made by the American Association of Retired Persons (www.aarp.org). Older adults are a heterogeneous group, more so than any other group (Atchley, 1999). They bring varied experiences and abilities to outdoor programming. For example, those 55 to 65 years old are likely beginning to …