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The Road Scholar Hiking Experience

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  • Education
  • Medicine
  • Psychology


The U.S. population is aging, with approximately 13% of the US population greater than 65 years old in 2009 (US Census Bureau). The CDC states that physical activity is one of the most important things that an older adult can do for their health. Physical activity can decrease the risk of many chronic diseases, especially heart disease, which is the leading cause of the death in the United States (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2011). As the size of the older adult population continues to grow, more opportunities are needed to help maintain an active lifestyle. These opportunities need to appeal to the current generation and provide not only physical exercise, but potentially provide for other psychosocial needs as well. Road Scholar is a non-profit organization founded in 1975. They offer nearly 8,000 educational adventures a year in over 90 countries. Most participants are over age 50, with the core participants between the ages of 65 and 80. The purpose of our current study is to determine the motivations, benefits and limitations of participating in hiking activities among older adults, to assess the effect that these experiences have on the quality of life of older adults, and to enhance or help to create new educational programs and experiences for the older adult population. Interviews were conducted in person and via phone. Interviews were recorded and lasted approximately 45 minutes. Participants were asked to provide a picture that represents their feelings on hiking and Photovoice was utilized to analyze their responses. Photovoice is a form of Participatory Action Research (PAR) by which people create and discuss photographs as a means of catalyzing and personal and community change (Wang and Burris, 1994). We interviewed a total of 11 individuals. Participants were selected among hikers that attended a Road Scholar hike in Switzerland in 2009 and England in 2010. All participants who participated in each hike were asked to participate. Qualitative analysis was utilized to organize and present the data obtained from the interviews. Specifically, we utilized thematic networks analysis as described by Jennifer Attride-Stirling in her article Thematic Networks: an analytic tool for qualitative research. This method systemizes the extraction of basic themes, organizing themes, and global themes and represents them as web-like maps and illustrating the relationships between them. The global themes that emerged were reasons for participating in hiking programs, individual benefits of hiking, the hiking experience, the psychological experience of hiking, memorable hikes, home exercise routine, health issues and injuries, hiking groups, and encouraging others to hike. The eleven participants in this study provided valuable information about their motivations, benefits, and limitations to participating in hiking activities. Despite physical limitations in the majority of participants, all found hiking to be beneficial to their physical and mental well-being. The responses to the questions supported previous research including life cycle theories, and previous studies performed utilizing Road Scholar participants.

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