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Treasure Hunt
Geocaching Encourages Teens to Get Fit

By Deborah L. Vence

Geocaching—an outdoor treasure hunting game that uses a global positioning system (GPS) device to hide and seek containers, called "geocaches" or "caches"—is rising in popularity across the globe.

In fact, research on this popular trend was presented in June at the American College of Sports Medicine's 58th Annual Meeting and 2nd World Congress on Exercise is Medicine.

"I worked with other faculty on campus in the recreation management program. My interest is in quantifying physical activity. The whole reason behind [the geocaching study] was to see if kids were interested in using technology, and combining it with the outside, rather than just going for a walk," said Rebecca A. Battista, Ph.D., associate professor in the Department of Health, Leisure and Exercise Science at Appalachian State University in Boone, N.C., and lead author of the study. The study was conducted last year between mid-September and mid-October and involved 56 teens from one local high school in North Carolina.

The idea and hope of geocaching is to help encourage teens to get more exercise. A study released in 2010 by The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation found that U.S. youth ages 8 to 18 spend an average of seven hours, 38 minutes each day using entertainment media, such as a television and computer.

"Geocaching was of interest because it was easy to do, and you have to work as a group, which is why it's becoming really popular," Battista said.

Some of the research presented at the June ACSM meeting was taken from responses from students who participated in the study. They were asked about whether or not they liked the geocaching exercise.

"What we found was that they really liked it. It was something different. It was fun, which says that if it's fun, then maybe it's a good alternative activity," Battista said. "There is a lot more interest in it."

The students were asked on a scale of one to five if they liked the exercise and how they liked using the technology. Most responses fell between 4.5 and 5 on the scale, indicating that they really enjoyed the geocaching exercise.

In the first session of the exercise the students—both boys and girls between the ages of 14 and 17—just walked. The second time, they were told to sign different cache sites. And, in the third session, they had to go out, and whoever came back as fast as they could would get a prize.

"That changed the motivation," Battista said, adding that each session was about 50 to 60 minutes in duration and conducted on three different days. "Being in North Carolina, we are high with obesity rankings. We have to think of things that are fun. If it's not fun, they won't do it."

The way it works: Geocaching uses GPS devices to track down containers, or caches, by their coordinates and written clues. The caches come in all shapes and sizes and typically contain a logbook for visitors to sign and/or an assortment of small items for visitors to take. Several online communities, such as www.geocaching.com, are accessible for geocaching fanatics.

According to information from geocaching.com, the term "geocaching" was created in 2000 and describes the hobby of locating a treasure somewhere in the world with the help of a GPS-enabled device and GPS coordinates that are listed online. Geocaching combines location-based gaming, social networking, treasure hunting, GPS navigation and outdoor recreation.

Furthermore, geocaches can be found all over the world. Also, it is common for geocachers to hide caches in locations that are important to them, which reflects a special interest or skill of the cache owner. These locations can be at a local park, at the end of a long hike, underwater or on the side of a city street.

To boot, more than 1.4 million geocaches have been hidden and found by more than 4 million people around the world. In fact, the United States and Germany lead in this activity, with the Czech Republic, Canada and the United Kingdom following. Geocaching continues to grow in popularity across the United States from California and Texas to New York and Florida.

The rules of geocaching, according to details from geocaching.com, include: If you take something from the cache, leave something of equal or greater value; write about your find in the cache logbook; and, finally, log your experience at www.geocaching.com. The requirements for the game are a GPS device or a GPS-enabled mobile phone in order to navigate to the cache, and a geocaching.com membership. Currently, more than a dozen "cache types" exist in geocaching, with each type being a different variation of the game. Some of the cache types include Traditional Cache, Multi-Cache, Mystery or Puzzle Caches, Letterbox Hybrid, Event Cache and EarthCache.


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