5 ways the outdoors can boost mental health and wellbeing in young people

With the stresses and strains of everyday life, the mental wellbeing of young people is a significant concern, especially with as many as one in five 16 to 24 year olds suffering from anxiety or depression. 

An almost identical proportion of this demographic is physically inactive, engaging in less than 30 minutes of exercise per week. And in an age dominated by addictive stay-at-home technologies and social media, it’s easy to see how young people opt out of exploring the outdoors.

Evidence shows that engagement with outdoor natural environments is beneficial for mental health and wellbeing: through a restorative effect, positive social contact and opportunities for physical activity. So, here we share some of the benefits of being outdoors for mental wellbeing.

1. HEALTHY BODY, HEALTHY MIND

A survey for Sport England found that, on average, the more active a person is, the more satisfied they are with their life. Countless other studies have demonstrated clear links between regular physical activities and reduced levels of the stress hormone cortisol, as well as increased levels of feel-good endorphins.

2. A GOOD NIGHT'S SLEEP

Natural light can help to regulate the production of melatonin, a hormone that plays a crucial role in controlling your body clock. Lack of exposure to natural light during the day can lead to insufficient melatonin levels at night, disrupting your sleep when your head hits the pillow, according to researchers at the Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil.

3. RESILIENCE

Stepping outside your comfort zone requires mental and physical resilience. This is an essential attribute for aspirational young people who are looking to stand out from the crowd and are hopeful of a fulfilling career. After all, in 2015, the Confederation of British Industry reported that 61% of businesses were not satisfied with the resilience of young people. The Australian Journal of Outdoor Education published a study on the resilience of young males and their research showed that the participants’ resilience significantly increased following an outdoor wilderness programme.

4. A NOSE FOR CALM

A stunning landscape is a pleasure for the senses – and not just because of the scenery. The mere smell of the countryside, from trees to fresh grass and green leaves to flowers, has been scientifically proven to reduce stress levels, according to Dr Nick Lavidis from the University of Queensland’s School of Biomedical Science, after a seven-year research project.

5. UNLEASH YOUR CREATIVITY

Outdoor exercise, particularly in rural locations, can clear the cobwebs in the head as well as the muscles. Hikers scored 50% better on a creativity test after spending four days in nature, disconnected from the distractions of electronic devices, according to a study by psychologists from the University of Utah and University of Kansas.

So, there you have it – getting outside has many benefits and it’s something we should encourage young people to do as much as possible. 

Another way to do this is go on an Outward Bound Summer Adventure. Our classroom is the UK wilderness – the mountains, lakes and seas that surround our centres enable young people to connect to nature and be active outdoors, which both relieve stress and anxiety.

If you would like to find out more about how an Outward Bound Summer Adventure can support wellbeing, click here

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