Seeking to learn more about what motivates people to be physically active, the Center for Active Living and Healthy Communities studied the Silver Streaks, a group of men and women 50 and older who ski regularly at Waterville Valley, a renowned resort 11 miles from the Plymouth State University campus.
Faculty and student researchers interviewed 35 skiers, all older adults who identify themselves as physically active. By documenting the personal physical-activity biographies of their subjects, the researchers sought to identify the factors that influence a lifelong commitment to physical activity. They also sought to understand the expectations for success and values related to active aging.
Five prevalent themes emerged from the skiers’ oral histories:
- Enjoyment – Physical activity is worth undertaking at every stage of life because it is fun.
- Freedom – Physical activity breeds feelings of independence, exploration and self-expression.
- The “Self” – Physical activity offers an avenue toward empowerment and enhanced self-esteem.
- Communion with nature – Physical activity offers a chance to enjoy the great outdoors.
- Holistic health – Physical activity is important to achieving a successful balance of physical, mental, emotional, spiritual and social health.
The Center’s researchers presented the qualitative study’s preliminary findings at the Association of Applied Sports Psychology’s national conference in September 2009. The findings support the preliminary conclusions that:
- Physical activity across the lifespan is a meaningful, achievement behavior for the study participants.
- Active aging involves achievement-related choices, engagement and persistence as indicators of personal success in the past, present and future.
Researchers are currently engaged in more-detailed data analysis, and formal conclusions are expected this year. One thing is clear, however: the Silver Streaks find deep intrinsic value in physical activity. In its work with New Hampshire’s rural communities, the Center strives to engender that value in residents, school officials and legislators.