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Geocaching can help promote exercise among teenagers, professors say

BOONE—The popularity of geocaching may be a way to encourage youth to get more exercise, according to two professors from Appalachian State University’s College of Health Sciences.

Dr. Rebecca Battista, an associate professor in the college’s Department of Health, Leisure and Exercise Science, and Dr. Stephanie West, an associate professor in the department, recruited 56 high school students to participate in geocaching activities and then rate their experience.

Geocaching is a worldwide treasure hunt that uses GPS units or GPS-enabled smartphones to locate a hidden “treasure” or container. Participants follow GPS coordinates and use a description of the geocache to find the cache and document their find on the website Geocaching.com. The website reports there are more than 1.4 million geocaches and 5 million registered participants worldwide.

“We thought that geocaching, which combines technology with an outdoor activity, would be a good way to encourage youth to just go walking,” Batista said. “It’s quite fun. You are with a group, and for children and particularly teens, the social connection is good, and you find a treasure, which provides a little more incentive to participate.”

Battista and others created four geocache sites that took about 60 minutes to locate. The students all reported that combining technology with physical activity was more fun than just walking.

“We taught the students how to download coordinates to the GPS and use the geocaching website, which hopefully will encourage them to continue the activity on their own,” Battista said.

Battista and West were so encouraged by the students’ acceptance of geocaching as a way to get exercise that they have talked with recreation programs and health and fitness facilities about renting GPS devices to families and others for a nominal fee. That service often is available at state parks and recreation facilities across the United States.

“Finding activities that children and teenagers enjoy as a way to get them to be more active is important,” Battista said. Federal guidelines recommend 60 minutes of physical activity five days a week.

“Sometimes we set up programs that students don’t want to do, nor are they interested in or good at,” she said. “We need to be more creative in how we attempt to deliver fitness programs.”

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