Too many of us are couch potatoes, and health experts have long advised exercise, especially outdoors. But if more of us spent more time outdoors could it bring other, additional benefits? Could it be a way to help achieve greater sustainability, conservation, and environmental protection? All this, of course, while benefiting the individual both physically and mentally.
Why not use your local park for a daily dose of physical activity and mental refreshment? Even in a 'Scottish summer' our parks, paths and outdoor spaces can bring great physical and mental health benefits 🏃🚶🧠🌳🪑 #GreenHealthWeek #MentalHealthAwarenessWeek pic.twitter.com/o1ZDm9Vm7g
— Public Health Scotland (@P_H_S_Official) May 14, 2021
Introducing those that don’t normally experience the outdoors has actually many proven benefits for the individual and the planet. For the planet, people that spend more time outdoors tend to be more environmentally conscious. With more environmentally conscious people, more environmentally sustainable habits are practiced.
The more exposure to nature you have in your daily life, the more likely you are to behave in environmentally-friendly ways, such as recycling, riding a bike, buying eco-friendly products, and volunteering for environmental projects.
While the connection might just sound like common sense, it had never been explored beyond small-scale experiments until a team of researchers from the European Centre for Environment & Human Health (ECEHH) looked more closely at the habits of 24,000 Britons. What they found was that, no matter where you live, if you spend time outdoors in parks, woodlands or beaches, or if you live in a forested area, you will be more inclined to value the natural world. If people and children can be introduced to the outdoors at an earlier age, both the planet and the individual can start reaping the rewards sooner.
Outdoor activity has many benefits for children and adults. First, it can improve an individual’s mental health. Being outside amongst trees and nature has been proven by the ECEHH research to reduce anxiety, reduce cortisol levels, calm the nervous system, reduce depression, spark creativity, and sharpen memory.
Think of Nature as an affordable and easily accessible gym. With easier access, comes more physical activity, thus reducing the effects of unhealthy lifestyles and the costs and side effects associated. For children, getting outside in nature is also beneficial both physically and mentally, as it helps lower their body mass index and burn off excess energy, with the positive result of strengthening their developing bones and muscles. Mentally, getting outside helps their concentration, self-esteem, creativity, social skills, and lower symptoms associated with ADHD. All this while developing a love and respect for the natural environment.
— K. A. Stefan Svensson (@Sherringford56) November 20, 2021
If children and young adults spent more time outdoors at an earlier age, it could inspire future generations to contribute to sustainable energy and environmentally conscious industries. Many of those directly profiting from oil drilling, hydrofracking, and industrial production have never visited or spent time in the land directly impacted by their actions.
A positive trend to have come out of covid is an increase in outdoor activities and thus more environmentally friendly habits.
Many more American went hiking in 2020 compared to 2019 – 8.1 million more, according to a preview of an upcoming outdoor participation report from the Outdoor Foundation, the philanthropic arm of the Outdoor Industry Association. It found that 7.9 million more went camping last year and 3.4 million more participated in freshwater fishing.
The foundation’s research also found a decline in inactivity for most age groups and across all income levels. There was a 52.9% surge in outdoor participation, an increase from 50.5% in 2018 and 50.7% in 2019. The expectation is that the rising trend will continue in the upcoming winter months among ski resorts which experienced rising demand as a way of getting out because of covid.
— Justin.Meacock (@MeacockJustin) November 20, 2021
People must be acquainted with the natural world and have an appreciation for it in order to realize what needs to be protected. The same is especially true for children, whose childhoods are increasingly shielded from natural exploration and yet desperately need that exposure in order to become the environmental stewards of the future.
In Yonkers, a suburb of New York City, programs like Hudson River Riders provide the Yonkers public living in a mostly urban setting an opportunity to get out on the water. This allows the residents to appreciate the benefits of nature’s beauty both physically and mentally. It introduces the local public to what they have available to them on their doorsteps and how it can be beneficial.
I spoke with Chevaughn Dixon, the programs director. He shared with me the benefits local people and kids have received in the program. Children who may have once acted up in school, abused substances, or not gone to school at all, idolizing bad influencers now found a sense of community kayaking on the Hudson River, using the kayaks placed freely at their disposal. They would not have thought to take advantage of these free natural benefits without the program.
Free paddling with the Hudson River Riders every Wednesday and Thursday from 4:00-7PM at JFK Marina & Park. 😊 pic.twitter.com/8Udj41DsXu
— Yonkers Downtown BID (@yonkersdowntown) July 28, 2019
Also, beyond the physical and therapeutic benefits felt by youth, he said there was a strong and diverse sense of community that developed when children and young adults were on the water in direct contact for prolonged periods of time with professionals such as doctors and lawyers, all sharing the same love of nature together.
Related Articles: The Great American Outdoors Act: Conserving America’s National Parks | The Importance of Connecting People With Nature in Times of Social Isolation | Discovering Nature with Dax Justin
Programs like this are models other cities could implement and expand upon taking advantage of the locally available natural beauty. All the while educating the public to maintain and respect Nature and creating healthier more diverse communities through heightened appreciation, respect, and an understanding of the natural environment, whilst receiving its benefits.
Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed here by Impakter.com columnists are their own, not those of Impakter.com. — In the Featured Photo: Beautiful Outdoors. Featured Photo Credit: Danni Coughlan