They do not call it the “OK” outdoors or even the “good” outdoors, it’s called the great outdoors for a reason. Not only can it be breathtakingly beautiful and inspire child-like wonder, the outdoors also has numerous benefits, from physical to academic. As a new type of childhood seems to be emerging, with children spending less time outdoors, there is also a growing movement to rediscover the wonderful benefits of being outside.
We all want happy, healthy families; time in the outdoors has been linked to physical and emotional health benefits. Not only do people say that they find it relaxing to be outside and it gives them a sense of well-being, it also has been associated with lower stress levels. Specifically, it has been shown to help with teenage anxiety and depression (Munoz, 2009). When people have access to outdoor space, they usually are more physically active and are more likely to exercise consistently. Time in nature has also been shown to lower obesity which is critical as childhood obesity is on the rise (Munoz, 2009). Spending time outdoors is linked with better blood pressure and cholesterol levels, and has also been shown to help with gastro and sleep-related problems in children (Munoz, 2009). Outdoor play helps with children’s motor development, including increased strength, balance, and coordination (Munoz, 2009).
There are psychological benefits to spending time in the outdoors as well. A recent study found that people with access to gardens tend to have fewer mental health problems than those without garden access (Pretty, et. al., 2007). As the number of children diagnosed with ADHD rises and the ADHD medication being produced can be measured in tons, a natural solution is refreshing. Spending time in nature has been shown to help alleviate the symptoms of ADHD and aid with recovery from attentional fatigue (Munoz, 2009). Time outside can also help improve relationships. Not only does it increase social interactions but it also decreases anger and impulsiveness which helps make those relationships more positive (Munoz, 2009).
Studies of women in the outdoors have shown that lack of confidence limited women’s success more than physical limitations did (Henderson & Roberts, 1998). Girl Scouts builds girls of courage, confidence, and character but it is difficult to be confident in something you haven’t done before. By girls going outside, they are over-coming gender stereotypes and growing into confident women in the outdoors. Beyond just becoming more confident in the outdoors, research has shown that outdoor activities helped increase women’s self-esteem levels (Henderson & Roberts, 1998). We know the self-esteem struggle that girls face today, and it appears that being outdoors can help combat the negative trend. Therefore, we should value the time that girls spend outdoors and promote that they go outside more often.
The benefits of spending time in nature, extend beyond the benefits to the individual. Girls Scouts grows girls who make the world a better place and as our world faces a myriad of environmental problems, we need girls who will protect our natural spaces. To quote Baba Dioum, “we will conserve only what we love, we will love only what we understand, and we will understand only what we are taught.” Going out into nature and learning about it fosters a connection to the natural world and a desire to conserve it.
Beyond learning about nature, learning in nature is beneficial as well. Not only does being outside increase attention and reduce ADHD symptoms as discussed above, being outside also boosts language development. Outdoor play also fosters creativity and imagination. Time with nature is associated with better academic performance, higher graduation rates, and plans to attend college (Logan & Selhoub, 2012).
Girl Scouts has been a leader in getting girls outdoors for over a 100 years and we want to help everyone receive the benefits of getting out and spending time in nature. Check out girlscoutcamp.org to learn more about upcoming events and opportunities to get outdoors and reap the benefits!
Henderson, K. A. & Roberts, N.S. (1998). An Integrative Review of the Literature on Women in the Outdoors. Coalition for Education in the Outdoors. http://eric.ed.gov/?id=ED438979
Logan, A. C., & Selhub, E.M. (2012). Your Brain on Nature: The Science of Nature’s Influence on Your Health, Happiness, and Vitality. Mississauga, Ontario: John Wiley & Sons Canada, Ltd.
Munoz, S. A. (2009). Children in the Outdoors: A Literature Review. Sustainable Development Research Centre.
Pretty, J., Peacock, J., Hine, R., Sellens, M., South, N., Griffin, M. (2007). Green exercise in the UK countryside: effects on health and physiological well-being and implications for policy and planning. Journal of Environmental Planning and Management, 50 (2), pp. 211 – 231. http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/09640560601156466