Beyond the Ordinary: Adventure Recreation in the Third Age

December 08, 2016

Michelle LeBlanc
Simon Fraser University

Editors note: This is the first in a series of articles on the ageing population and the opportunities they represent to recreation programmers.

Gone are the days of passive cruise vacations, bridge, and bingo for adults entering retirement! Significant progress in the medical and technological fields has contributed to longer lives averaging near and beyond 80 years in North America. Along with these advances, the rapid aging of the largest demographic wedge (Baby Boomers) evokes a new era for the world of recreation programming.

Social scientists and health researchers suggest that this aging group will tend to live longer, healthier lives than previous generations. In addition to better health, there are also differences in values and beliefs, effectively shaping the way in which they prefer to spend their years in post-retirement. It has also been suggested that this age group thrives on stimulating experiences, for example, cultural exposure and adventure travel. This in turn creates a potential for recreation facilities to offer exciting, stimulating and meaningful programs versus traditional elementary activities.

From a recreation management perspective, a major shift is needed. We live in a society that heavily favours the young. We often tend to overlook the various characteristics, diversity, and even value of aging adults.


– Ageist attitudes
– Social constructs of aging
– Public policies
– Availability of activities

These factors all affect the ability for individuals to engage in new meaningful activities. Exposure and supportive encouragement can hopefully shape new positive attitudes about aging. We must ask ourselves, how are these opportunities limited?

At the individual level, lack of resources or internalized ageism may restrict someone to actively seek and pursue new recreation opportunities. At the organizational level, there is a distinct absence in innovative, safe, challenging and fulfilling experiences. How many Community ‘Senior’s Centres’ & Recreation Agencies offer a multitude of courses in rock climbing, kayaking, or trail biking for older adults? Barbara – 2 separate call-outs The benefits associated with involvement in these pursuits can enhance quality of life or well-being regardless of age. This can be particularly important in a time period when there are increased risks of cognitive or physical decline, social isolation, and feelings of insignificance.

Of course, there are slightly higher risks associated with some recreation activities for this demographic. However, aging adults deserve more acknowledgement, incitement, and worth than what is often offered. Now is the time to start investing in creating awesome opportunities for these members of society. Every aging adult will eventually get to a life stage where time is abundant, and the potential for learning new meaningful recreation skills should be something that is available, rather than lacking.

What are the next steps for your organization? Here are some recommended strategies or steps for implementation:

1- Education and awareness for Recreation Program programmers
2- Risk Management through health professionals or skilled guides
3- Health Status: consider adaptations
4- Facility appropriate: creative approaches and space utilization
5- Skill and training for participants
6- Positive encouragement from staff
7- Create partnerships with existing organizations

Although not every older adult will embrace pursuits of adventure or outdoor recreation, we need to start making these opportunities visible and available. The last decades of our lives should not be filled with days of a restricted, sedentary lifestyle. As research demonstrates, participation in physical activities tends to decline as we age, and coincidentally, so do most engaging recreational opportunities. This does not need to be the status quo; meaningful recreation programs can give fulfilling and joyful experiences at a period in our lives when it is actually most needed!

Michelle LeBlanc is an avid adventurer, physical activity and nature lover; currently completing her Master’s Degree with the Faculty of Gerontology at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia. Her hope is to inspire and motivate everyone (young and old) to pursue adventure and healthy aging through recreation.

She can be reached at

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