Examining the Role of Natural Environments through Retirement Transitions: A Longitudinal Narrative Study
Ross, Joanna Elizabeth Alison
Thesis or dissertation
University of Exeter
Increasing longevity in Western society means that older adults will spend more of their later lives as retirees, or as older workers. In this respect, what it means to live as an older adult represents a shifting landscape, where the health and well-being of older adults are guided by the socio-cultural narrative of decline (being aged passively), and ageing in the era of the Third Age (actively growing old). As such, there is a need for research to examine how older adults can age well as retirees, or as older workers. To date, research in this field has seldom considered the role of the natural environment in this respect, despite a burgeoning body of research that indicates the beneficial impact of natural environments upon health and well-being. The aim of this research, therefore, was to examine the role of natural environments in the lives of older adults during the retirement process, and in the lives of older workers, and the potential implications for ageing well. Pluralistic methods were utilised within a longitudinal design in order to generate narrative data. Specifically, 7 retirees and 3 older workers were interviewed in 3 stages, over a time period of 2 years. Narrative analysis revealed that, initially, pre-retirees’ stories were guided by notions of being aged passively, facilitated by a relational narrative and often illustrated by dys-appearing body-self relationships. In contrast, older workers’ stories were driven by notions of actively growing old, facilitated by an individualistic narrative. In the later stages of data collection, retirees’ stories developed to also be guided by actively growing old, where embodied decline was overshadowed by aspects of being such as spirituality, intellectual stimulation, and mindfulness. Such stories were complemented by a developed sense of self, highlighting the importance of self-awareness in later life. Natural environments played a role by providing a multi-dimensional platform from which to age well. For example, on a physical level, spending time in natural environments often involved being active in a non-prescriptive way coupled with a sense of autonomy, calmness and relief from stress. On an emotional level, pleasurable memories from childhood were re-ignited when in natural environments, which participants found invigorating. On a cognitive level, whilst in natural environments, participants were able to engage in a spiritual and intellectual process of negotiation whereby selves were re-discovered from the past, contemplated in the present, and constructed for the future. Implications of these findings for policy and practice, and the original contribution to knowledge made by this research, are discussed within.
PhD in Sport and Health Sciences