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A healthier lifestyle for all

The outdoors is a multi-pronged form of medicine for mental and physical health, community building and conservation development. Unfortunately, not everyone can access it.

By Alexis Croisdale

The outdoors is a multi-pronged form of medicine for mental and physical health, community building and conservation development. Unfortunately, not everyone can access it.  

Although there is an acknowledgment of equity and inclusivity issues around outdoor recreation, there are fewer conversations about age disparities.  

In comes a novel partnership including Oregon State University, the Outdoor Recreation Economy Initiative (OREI), and AARP, a nonprofit organization dedicated to empowering people to choose how they live as they age, hopes to change the dynamic.   

Aware of the industry’s inequities, the group set forth to better understand the health benefits of recreation to adults over 50 and address some of the disparities limiting their access to outdoor activities.  

Those involved include Lee Davis, executive director of OREI, which addresses the workforce needs of the recreation economy; Erwin Tan, director of thought leadership at AARP; Josuha Norris, director of the Adventure Leadership Institute at OSU; and Allison Myers, director of the Oregon State University Center for Health Innovation, who conducts research for the project along with other CPHHS faculty members. The team shared how the project originated and insights in a recent Public Health Insider webcast. 

“When we put this project together, we set out to understand the health benefits of better outdoor recreation to adults over 50,” Lee says. “And then we wanted to understand the core competencies that front-facing employees in the outdoor recreation economy needed to be working better with people over 50, to understand their needs and to service them better.”  

According to Lee, the recreation economy accounts for close to half of the dollars related to travel and tourism in America. This includes the retail and service industry, the public sector, nonprofit organizations, advocacy groups and community groups.  

“We’re talking about an industry that nationally has 5.2 million jobs, an industry that’s larger than oil and gas, larger than mining, larger than pharmacy,” Lee says. “An industry where one or two children in almost every classroom in America is likely to be working in in the future.” 

Erwin says that individuals over 50 make a dramatic impact on overall employment by driving consumer demand in outdoor recreation.  

“It’s not that you have to pay people to do it. In fact, they are willing to pay you for it,” Erwin says. “The question is accessibility, and I think what’s unique about this partnership is that it exists across different sectors.” 

The health benefits related to outdoor recreation are clear, but Joshua and Allison wanted to understand who is receiving them and who isn’t. Other CPHHS faculty members who contributed to the research include John Schuna, Sabrina Pillai and Siew Sun Wong

“What we know is that males are outside getting physical activity more frequently than females. We also know that males are using equipment in their outdoor physical activity more than females,” Allison says.  

Their research also found that adults over the age of 80 are outdoors less than adults in their 50s, 60s or 70s and that minority racial and ethnic groups are also less likely to participate in equipped outdoor physical activities.  

“Siew Sun and I began to look at what core competencies, in general, would be for a workforce that is current, but also for the workforce that we believe the future calls for,” Joshua says. 

“People need to feel invited,” Erwin says. “Part of that is not only the issue of training older adults to be there as workers but also having other generations see the older adults as potential consumers and worthy of attention.” 

With a project that crosses several different sectors, all those involved agree that Oregon State’s involvement and land grant mission brings a unique offering.  

“One of the reasons I’m proud to be doing this work at Oregon State University is that we already have a large set of assets in the degree space and in the non-credit space to help support this economy,” Lee says. “OSU continues to be a leader in helping people get jobs in the outdoors.” 

“I’m at OSU not by accident. I love how our land grant mission is fully embedded in the work that we are talking about,” Josh says. 

“We will have five generations working in the same workforce at the same time. Looking at how we can integrate each generation’s strengths and allow people to continue to work for as long as they desire or need to is one of our top priorities. To have that ability is very exciting,” Erwin says. 

Listen to Lee, Erwin, Joshua and Allison discuss this project in a Public Health Insider webcast, a joint initiative hosted by the OSU Alumni Association, OSU Foundation, OSU College of Public Health and Human Sciences, and OSU Center for Health Innovation. 

Learn more about this series and register for future webcasts on the OSU Alumni Association website. Recordings will be available on the CPHHS YouTube channel approximately two weeks after each event.