YOU’RE NEVER TOO OLD TO CLIMB A ROCK!
I met Michelle through Instagram after being amazed and then impressed by her endeavors in teaching baby boomers how to climb rocks. In pursuit of a Masters Degree in Gerontology Michelle became fascinated with the different factors that affect healthy aging and pursuits of physical activity, like: motivation, exposure, grit, and personal meaning. Her Master’s research work eventually led her to examine the motivations and experiences of middle and older aged adult rock climbers , and eventually start a business, facilitating unique & world-class rock climbing learning experiences for those 50+.
We move & we play…until we don’t.
Society is hyper-focused on getting children to move more because of growing inactivity rates. This makes sense to me, but at the same time, a Life-course Theory approach (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Life_course_approach) to this ‘hot topic’ should perhaps be considered by health professionals to also address aging populations. Widely used among social gerontologists, this theory is useful in helping us explain behaviour as defined by significant periods in our life or events, for example: puberty, parenthood, retirement, etc. It is apparent that the more leisure time we have, the more opportunities we should have for play and physical activity. In theory, this would mean in our youth and retirement, since there is a gap in available leisure time when we are in the workforce with more responsibilities.
The Life Course & physical activity paradox in the early 20th century looked somewhat like this:
Birth – childhood – youth – young adulthood (working & family life) – retirement – death (60-65)
Play – play – physical activity opportunities – No time – 5-10max. years of leisure in retirement
Yet, the unfortunate course that we now see with the industrial & technological revolution looks more like this:
Birth – childhood – youth – young adulthood – adulthood – retirement – post retirement work – death (85+)
Play – play – physical activity opportunities – No time – No time – 20+ years of leisure in retirement
Obviously, time spent being active is often dependent on the individual levels of motivation, lifestyle, socio-demographic characteristics, their environment/exposure, and their prioritization for health behaviors.
We have spent billions and billions of dollars in the past decades towards creating such an effective bio-medical system that people are living longer and generally healthier lives in retirement. This period of life dramatically increases potential for leisure time, play, physical activity and recreation. Unfortunately, there still exists limited creative organized opportunities to move or play for the retired population. There are fitness-based programs that are promoted, but they fail to capitalize on adherence rates because they don’t capture the secret ingredient to lifelong physical activity engagement: purpose & meaning.
The intrinsic motivation for participation in different activities is a topic that I recently studied in a pilot research project looking at older rock climbers for my Masters in Gerontology. While this activity may not be on the radar for what some people consider ‘appropriate’ for an older demographic, I actually consider climbing to be an optimal form of lifelong physical activity.
Tom, a semi-retiree that I met while at a conference in Colorado back in 2016 has recently written about this topic for the Climbing Wall Association. He is 72 and only started climbing in his late 60’s. You can read more about his story here: http://www.boomerclimber.rocks/. What makes his story and rock climbing unique is that it reinforces intrinsic goal-setting, which adds personal value while increasing meaning. Strong community connections can also be made through rock climbing. Contrary to what people assume, you do NOT need to be extremely fit in order to get into rock climbing. It can be modified to suit any level or ability. Rock climbing is safe, especially indoor rock climbing. Over the past few years, it has become increasingly popular and accessible on a global scale.
For anyone interested in learning more about how they can get started with rock climbing or any other alternative ideas, you can contact me at: email@example.com.