Texas A&M study transforms traditional perceptions of physical activity

July 24, 2014
The study included individuals 18- to 77-years old and showed nontraditional methods of physical activity were effective.

The study included individuals 18- to 77-years old and showed nontraditional methods of physical activity were effective.

The Center for Community Health Development (CCHD) at the Texas A&M Health Science Center School of Public Health finds evidence that fun can lead to physical activity. A CCHD research study funded by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) evaluated the health benefits of exergames, or activities that engage users in physical activity with the added fun factor of game play.

The research study “Geocaching for Exercise and Activity Research (GEAR)” focused on a particular exergame called geocaching. Geocaching incorporates the adventure of a real-life treasure hunt with gaming features such as a reward system, online avatars, and skill-based categories. As part of GEAR, 1,000 people across the United States tracked their physical activity levels while geocaching during a 12-month period. Researches collected data from individuals ranging in age from 18- to 77-years old through online surveys and analyzed the aggregated responses to understand how physical activity and geocaching relate.

Whitney Garney, M.P.H.

Whitney Garney, M.P.H.

One of the study’s principal investigators, Whitney Garney, M.P.H., states that throughout the 12-month study, “the average GEAR participant walked 10 miles per month while geocaching alone, walking approximately 1-½ miles on each geocaching trip and averaging 72 geocaching trips a year.”

This means that participants averaged 134 minutes of moderate physical activity a week, which is just under the CDC’s weekly recommendation of 150 minutes.

Additionally, participants in the study reported improved health status and fewer days of poor mental health and physical health than a comparative sample.

Study findings are significant in that they support nontraditional methods of physical activity as an effective component of a healthy lifestyle for people of all ages.

“GEAR results have important implications for how and why people are physically active,” says Garney. “Geocaching is one option for people to have fun and be physically active at the same time without going to the gym and may be just what America needs to get moving.”

— Rae Lynn Mitchell

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