Youth, and adults, in today’s culture are spending an increasingly less amount of time outdoors and more time indoors behind a screen. According to the Nation Environmental Education Foundation (NEEF) the average high school student spends one hour outside each day, typically taking part in activities such as waiting for the bus or walking between classrooms. Outdoor experience has proven positive impacts on health and happiness. In one of the seminal studies on the topic of human health and the natural environment, Roger Ulrich (1984) found in his “view through a window” study that patients with a hospital room with a view of nature (i.e. trees) recovered from a minor surgery faster and were also observed to be happier and less combative with their care providers. A more recent article found that outdoor experiences reduce the generation of negative emotions that we commonly associate as anger, sadness, frustration, or depressed moods, compared to similar individuals participating in a built or indoor environment (Bower, et. al., 2010)
During this time of the year here in the Midwest, it can be challenging to find the motivation to get outside, however, it is important to take what the research suggests to heart and make spending time outside a priority.
According to the NEEF 80% of adolescents prefer to spend time indoors, however, 92% understand that time spent outdoors helps make them healthier, and 88% recognize that time spent outdoors makes them happier. There appears to be a disconnect somewhere between this understanding and putting this knowledge into practice. The NEEF survey found that adolescents are very passionate and advocate for social causes such as “animal abuse and LGBTQ issues,” but less so about environmental issues. I would posit that this stems from the lack of experience. An individual is less likely to advocate for something with which one has had little experience, this is where the NRF and its grantee organizations step into play. The survey found that teachers, educators and leaders are the most trusted sources of outdoor and environmental education for adolescents, suggesting that these individuals, organizations and programs have the capacity of greatly influencing recreation tendencies towards participation and overall understanding of the outdoors.
NEEF offers a variety of resources that include facts related to this topic, social media post templates and suggestions, and program recommendations on their website as well as an overview to the survey here.