It's Never Too Late to Dare: Outdoor Adventure Programming for the Age Wave. the Retirement of the Baby-Boom Generation Will Bring Many New Clients to Traditional Recreation Programs for Older Adults. Expanding Outdoor Adventure Recreation to Include Older Adults Will Help to Serve This Population

Article excerpt

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.

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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).

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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). …