If you type into Google “health benefits of outdoor recreation” you will get a whole host of results. There are plenty of articles and organisations out there that are keen to publicise the benefits from participating in outdoor recreation.

It may seem obvious to a lot of people that getting outdoors and active is good for you but you may not know more specifically what you can achieve. So here is a summary of some of the benefits you can hope to expect with participation in outdoor pursuits.

Environmenrtal Studies at Leicester Outdoor Pursuits Centre

Psychological

Viewing nature, or living in a natural area can be very supportive to human health and wellbeing. This is discussed in a study by the English Outdoor Council entitled “Time for change in outdoor learning”. Stress levels can be reduced being around nature and participating in physical activity. Reduced stress can also mean reduced anxiety and depression, which can then lead to building self-esteem and self-confidence.

The Institute of Outdoor Learning (IOL) also talks about enhanced mental and spiritual health too, as outcomes from participation in outdoor pursuits. Above all this there is the simple enjoyment of having fun outdoors. Having that respite away from work and life, getting out and achieving things such as paddling a river, climbing a mountain or abseiling down a wall will bring an important break to normal routine, and achieving these things will help to build self-confidence and self-esteem. This is discussed further in a guide into “High Quality Outdoor Education” by the English Outdoor Council.

Physical Health

Being active and exercising regularly, (along with a good diet), helps to keep your body fit; there are many individual physical benefits from regular exercise. Benefits linked with walking can include:

  • Managing weight and preventing obesity
  • Controlling blood pressure and decreasing risk of heart attack
  • Boosting good cholesterol
  • Lowering risk of stroke
  • Reducing risk of cancer and type 2 diabetes
  • Protecting against hip fractures
  • Preventing depression, colon cancer, constipation, osteoporosis, and impotence
  • Lengthening lifespan
  • Lowering stress levels
  • Relieving arthritis and back pain
  • Strengthening muscles, bones, and joints
  • Improving sleep
  • Elevating overall mood and sense of well-being
Hill Walking in Leicester

This was noted in a study into the benefits of walking by AARP Magazine used by Geoffry Gobey (2009) in a study into “Outdoor Recreation, Health and Wellness”. Overall the outcome is a higher life expectancy and a better quality of life.

Other key gains from participation in outdoor pursuits include:

  • Improved motor skills and coordination
  • Improved sense of balance
  • Increased fitness and stamina
  • Increased muscle strength – particularly from activities such as climbing where people use particular muscle groups that don’t often tend to be used
  • Improved resilience to elements such as adverse weather and challenging environments

Personal Development

The Institute of Outdoor Learning talks about how outdoor pursuits can enable its participants to enhance their personal, social and communication skills, as well as gaining and enhanced spiritual, sensory and aesthetic awareness. Key life skills children can take away with them for the rest of their life.

The IOL also state 5 key learning points that can easily be gained through outdoor pursuits.

  • develop self-esteem, take personal responsibility, co-operate with and respect the needs of others
  • extend their personal horizons through greater appreciation and understanding of the world and its peoples around them;
  • understand the need for sustainable relationships between people and their environment;
  • enhance practical problem solving and team work skills.
  • promote a positive and knowledgeable response towards personal health and well being

Again this is all part of life learning that is difficult to gain inside the classroom, but is a key outcome when learning outside the classroom.

The study “Nothing Ventured Nothing Gained” Tom Gill (2010) also discusses the need to expose children to risk as a necessary part of their development both helping them to understand risk and teach them how to analyze risk for themselves.

Canoeing School Trip

Environmental Benefits

Increased environmental awareness tends to result from outdoor recreation, which can then lead to increased involvement in environmental issues. As people spend more time in the natural environment they tend to take more ownership and have a deeper appreciation which results in better care, e.g. less littering, wildlife being left undisturbed. The appreciation of the natural environment is discussed further in the “Time for change in outdoor learning” study by the English Outdoor Council.

In an article by Kent State University entitled “Top Five Benefits of Outdoor Recreation”, they state:

“Outdoor recreation can pay off with economic benefits too; people who regularly participate in outdoor recreation tend to be more productive at work. Outdoor recreation creates job opportunities for others, which leads to economic growth. And the preservation of the natural areas needed for outdoor recreation increases property values.”

As you can see there is a case for outdoor recreation having a benefit for the environment as well as the economy.