Wellness advice often includes suggestions to increase exercise and to spend more time in nature, especially now that the weather is warming, and many countries are easing their Covid-19 lockdown restrictions. Today, we’ll take a look at the clinical trials providing evidence for why outdoor activities might be so beneficial to our health.
One recent literature review conducted an analysis of 133 studies in order to identify the most commonly cited benefits of both time in nature, and physical activity (as well as where they overlap.) The review found that clinical studies most frequently reported physical health benefits of outdoor sports. These included generally increased fitness and cardiovascular health, reduced instances of high blood pressure and obesity, and decreased risk for certain diseases such as heart attacks and even certain types of cancer. Furthermore, the majority of the studies found participants in outdoor activities had better subjective health perception, and a higher physical quality of life.
The same review also noted an overarching theme of improved mental health and wellbeing across the majority of the clinical studies. Some of the common factors identified were improved general mental status, high quality of life, lower incidences of mental illnesses, and better control and coping skills throughout the lifespan.
These findings are in line with much of the other research into the benefits of outdoor recreation, such as the two pilot studies analyzed by Mutz and Muller in 2016. These studies reflect the importance of outdoor education and wilderness activities in pre-teens and young adults, which may be particularly relevant to post-pandemic life as this age group has experienced significant disruption to their normal social activities, including group outdoor recreation. This analysis found young participants scored higher in life satisfaction, happiness, mindfulness, and self-efficacy and lower in perceived stress, after wilderness excursions lasting just over a week.
It is important to note the very real benefits of getting back outside as the world slowly opens up again, as the mental and physical health benefits may play a very important role in making the transition to a more social climate easier and healthier.
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