Promoting health, inspiring ‘awe’ in aging adults

March 27, 2023

The University of Arizona Health Sciences is promoting healthy living habits for aging adults through a wellness practice known as “awe-walking.”

By 2030, every Baby Boomer in the United States will be age 65 or older. This comes on the heels of a decade that saw those age 65 and older grow at a faster pace – 34% – than any other demographic. In Arizona, that increase was even more dramatic at 48.4%, and now more than 1.3 million people in the state have reached retirement age. 

To better prepare for and understand the unique health challenges this aging population is facing, the University of Arizona Health Sciences launched the Innovations in Healthy Aging initiative. Innovations in Healthy Aging is a collaboration of experts from across the university working together to redefine what it means to thrive while aging.

One of the collaborations is the Creative Encounters in Awe Walking series. Awe walking is a wellness practice that involves going on walks of 15 minutes or longer and shifting one’s attention toward things that inspire “awe”.

The project was developed by Jennie Gubner, PhD, assistant professor of music in the UArizona College of Fine Arts and chair of the Applied Intercultural Arts Research Graduate Interdisciplinary Program, and Sydney Streightiff, a research assistant in Innovations in Healthy Aging and doctoral student in the AIAR program. Innovations in Healthy Aging helped expand the project by integrating it into its Aging and the Arts program.

Creative Encounters in Awe Walking was inspired by recent neuroscience research that has associated positive health benefits for older adults through experiencing awe. It promotes walking as an accessible and affordable wellness practice across the lifespan by providing students and community members with tools to encounter and share moments of awe. The walks explore how creativity can be used as a tool to enhance and encourage awe-walking practices in daily life.

Each of the workshops have a theme, such as sound, light or color, and feature an artistic modality such as photography, drawing or sound recording. The workshops are presented in collaboration with community partners from the Tucson area, including the Tucson Botanical Gardens, The Mini Time Machine Museum of Miniatures, the University of Arizona Center for Creative Photography and the Audubon Society.

Our Experts

Kathleen Insel, PhD, RN
Professor and Interim Dean, College of Nursing
Director, Innovations in Healthy Aging

Mindy J. Fain, MD
Professor, College of Medicine – Tucson
The Anne and Alden Hart Endowed Chair in Medicine
Associate Professor, College of Nursing
Executive Director of Practice, Innovation in Health Sciences
Co-Director, Arizona Center on Aging

Esther M. Sternberg, MD
Professor, College of Medicine – Tucson
Director of Research, Andrew Weil Center for Integrative Medicine
Inaugural Andrew Weil Endowed Chair for Research in Integrative Medicine
Member, BIO5 Institute, Arizona Arthritis Center

Jennie M. Gubner, PhD
Assistant Professor, Music, UArizona College of Fine Arts
Chair, Applied Intercultural Arts Research Graduate Interdisciplinary Program


Blair Willis
Health Sciences Office of Communications