Youth Travel: Supporting a Healthy Relationship Between Kids & the Outdoors

The benefits of spending time in nature range from supporting mental health and reducing stress to helping to develop responsibility for the environment. Below are 5 reasons why supporting a healthy relationship between youth &the outdoors is important:

1. Disconnecting from Technology = More Sensory Experiences. While technology has its place in everyone’s lives, it is oftentimes hard to find a disconnect and allow the brain to rest from screen time. Richard Louv, author and co-founder of the Children & Nature Network warns that, “As the young spend less and less of their lives in natural surroundings, their senses narrow and this reduces the richness of human experience.”1 The beautiful thing
about investing time outside is that the senses are engaged simultaneously. Encourage your children or students to leave their phones behind or turn them off while they participate in outdoor activities in order to fully immerse themselves and be fully present.

2. Nature creates a sense of wonder. Naturally, youth tend to be curious as they grow and soak in information. Spending time in the outdoors can create
conversations about natural phenomena as well as advance creativity, imagination, and even promote responsibility for the environment. It might just take one hands-on experience to foster a connection between the earth and a youth’s sense of wonder. Additionally, the phrase we’ve most likely heard before, “Stop and smell the roses,” lends to this idea about taking time to slow down and notice the little things. Encouraging this mentality can help youth develop awareness and appreciation for the world around them and also support self-awareness.

3. Natural environments reduce stress.
With studying, working on projects, being involved in multiple extra-curricular, many youth are on the go and encounter stress which can affect their health and attention span. According to Attention Restoration Theory, nature has the “capacity to renew attention after exerting mental energy” and that “natural environments are restorative as they enable the directed attention system to recover from depletion”…in other words: recharge the mental batteries! In a study conducted by The Nature Conservancy, “90 percent of kids who spent time outside said being in nature and taking part in outdoor activities helped relieve
stress.” Reducing stress, in turn, improves mood, sleep, and the overall well-being of an individual.

4. Sunlight is important for mental health and performance. A good amount of an adolescent’s time is spent indoors, whether that’s at a desk in school or at home connected to technology. A number of studies conducted in the United States have shown that daylight enhances mental performance, promotes vitamin D and circadian regulation, decreases depression and can help treat Seasonal Affective Disorder. The effects of sunlight are not only positive but vital
to the function of human bodies!

5. Going outside promotes movement. The adolescent years are a pivotal time for the acquisition of future lifestyles. Unfortunately, the sedentary lifestyle is
prevalent among young people due to lack of physical activity. According to a study by the University of Essex, “Just five minutes of ‘green exercise’ can produce rapid improvements in mental wellbeing and self-esteem, with the greatest benefits experienced by the young”. As outside time becomes ingrained, youth are more likely to have healthy habits and crave being outside because it supports their wellbeing.

By promoting these healthy habits at a young age, youth are more likely to continue implementing them as they grow. Creating opportunities for youth to experience the outdoors is important not only for their health but also for what they learn by being outside!