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Researchers Geared Up For New Geo-Study

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A group of Texan researchers has stepped up to the challenge of conducting the first study into geocaching’s physical benefits.

This week, the Center for Community Health Development at the Texas A&M Health Science Center recruited 1000 Americans aged 18 and over to investigate just how physically active they are whilst searching for smileys.

Monica Wendel

Monica Wendel

Volunteers are being given a pedometer to track their geocaching-related footsteps over a 12-month period, and, upon filling out a series of monthly questionnaires, will be rewarded with trackables.

Head researcher Monica Wendel says the Geaching for Exercise and Activity Research (Gear) study grew out of another project the center was working on with a rural Texas community, identifying ways for families with children to be physically active for little money.

“That was our introduction to geocaching, and then we discovered that no published research exists (that we could find) studying the extent to which geocaching is used for physical activity.”

Although the study itself will make great strides into geo-research, for the CCHD team involved, it will require baby steps.

Wendel explains: “We are not experts in geocaching by any stretch. Since the precursor to this project is what introduced us to geocaching, it’s our first rodeo … But we are thrilled to be learning about it and look forward to the opportunities we have to do it (for research and for fun).

“Being on a college campus, I was really surprised to see how many caches there are within walking distance of my office.  We may have to make some office team-building activities out of finding them.”

Until then, though, she and her team will be busy cajoling the geocachers involved to log not just their finds but also their workouts. “As an exploratory study, we just want people to do what they normally do and then tell us about it.  The only difference is that we’re giving them a pedometer to track their steps and a passport book to record other details they might not otherwise pay attention to, such as how long they spend finding a cache. They will receive email surveys once a month to tell us about their geocaching experiences.”

After completing six surveys, participants will earn a trackable.  If they complete all 12 questionnaires, they will receive a second limited-edition TB, Wendel says. “We anticipate potentially 400 geocachers will actually make it to that point, but we’re hoping they will surprise us with more.”

Originally the study was to involve 500 American geocachers over two years but she admits they underestimated the sport’s popularity. “Between our partners at Texas Parks & Wildlife and Geocaching.com, they managed to get us more than 500 in the first week.  So, now we’re having to limit participation to the first 1000 registrants who give us complete information.”

When Wendel spoke to It’s Not About The Numbers yesterday, she knew their numbers were close to the 700 mark – “but that was before Geocaching.com posted on their Facebook page again this evening”. The project has since reached its maximum target and the online questionnaire is no longer available.

All up, the Gear study will run for 18 months, though the participants will only provide data for the first year. The remaining six months will be used by the center’s researchers for data analysis, interpretation, and reporting.

Wendel says the completed data will reveal to what extent geocaching can be classified as a form of physical activity.  “We are hoping to document some currently unpublished information about geocaching, such as how much variability there is in the activity levels based on geographic location, age, season of the year, etc.”

Their full results will be published in scientific journals, while “more user-friendly” summary reports will be posted online at Facebook, GC.com and the Texas Parks & Wildlife website in May 2014. “Given that nothing has been published, we don’t really have any specific expectations, but we are really excited about what we can learn from this.”

 

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