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8 Mental Health Benefits of Getting Your Kids Outside, Plus Tips on How to Do It

Medically reviewed by Akilah Reynolds, Ph.D. — By Sarah Garone




8 Mental Health Benefits of Getting Your Kids Outside, Plus Tips on How to Do It

Article Medically reviewed by

Akilah Reynolds, Ph.D. — By Sarah Garone



Between a global pandemic, social unrest, military conflicts overseas, and environmental catastrophes like wildfires and heatwaves, it’s safe to say the first 2 years of the 2020s have been pretty stressful.

If you and your kids are feeling frazzled, isolated, anxious, or depressed, you aren’t alone.

As of March 2022, the World Health Organization (WHO) reported that the COVID-19 pandemic triggered a 25 percent increase in depression and anxiety worldwide.

This trend isn’t limited to adults.

, mental health-related emergency department visits from March to October 2020 increased 24 percent for children ages 5 to 11 and 31 percent for those ages 12 to 17 compared with 2019.

A spring 2020 national survey of 3,300 high school students found that a third of students felt unhappy and depressed much more than usual.

According to the American Psychological Association (APA), this constitutes a children’s mental health crisis.

While this may be a daunting reality to face as a parent, there are ways to help reduce the effects the last few years of turmoil have had on your kids.

One way is to get outside.

To some, this may seem too simple to work. For others, like those living in cities, it might seem inaccessible. Still, the science is in: Getting outside can greatly benefit your family’s mental health.

Here are the facts on the mind-nature connection, plus tips for getting outdoors, no matter your circumstances.


The physical and mental health benefits of getting outside

It’s no secret that the body and mind are connected. The research mentioned below shows that time outside has important positive effects on physical well-being. This can lead to better mental health outcomes in children and adults.

The following physiological changes may have a powerful impact on the emotional states of both kids and parents:

  • reduced cortisol

  • lowered blood pressure and heart rate

  • increased vitamin D

  • improved sleep quality and increased duration

  • increased overall well-being

  • improved cognition and creativity

  • less rumination

  • improved relationships


Reduced cortisol

Cortisol, a hormone produced by the adrenal glands, is known as the stress hormone. When it comes to mental health, it’s best for the body to produce just enough — and not too much.

In an 8-week 2019 study of 36 urban dwellers, participants spent time in any outdoor environment that brought them in touch with nature. After doing so three times a week for 10 minutes or more, participants had a significant drop in cortisol, no matter what activities they performed outside.

“The chronic stress of our daily lives can lead to adrenal hyperstimulation and eventually fatigue,” says Joel Warsh, a board-certified pediatrician and the founder of Integrative Pediatrics. “By taking some time to step away to nature, [parents and kids] can reduce cortisol levels, decrease stress, and eventually change overall health.”


Lower blood pressure and heart rate

Blood pressure and heart rate aren’t just a window into your cardiovascular health. They’re also important measures of stress in the body.

According to research from 2020, multiple studies showed that sitting or walking outdoors significantly reduced both blood pressure and heart rate.

The research showed that getting outside decreased the activity of the sympathetic nervous system, also known as the body’s fight-flight-freeze response. While a useful short-term adaptive strategy, this nervous system response can get stuck in overdrive and lead to long-term stress and fatigue.


Increased vitamin D

Research from 2018 estimated that about 42 percent of American adultsTrusted Source

are deficient in vitamin D. Many kids don’t get enough of this nutrient, either.

of 330 children in Busan, South Korea, nearly 60 percent of participants...


 

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Medically reviewed by Akilah Reynolds, PhD — By Sarah Garone

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