Outdoor Activity Participation Improves Adolescents’ Mental Health and Well-Being during the COVID-19 Pandemic


COVID-19 is reshaping human interactions with the natural environment, potentially generating profound consequences for health and well-being. To assess the effects of COVID-19 on the outdoor recreation participation and subjective well-being of adolescents, as well as how participation in outdoor activities may mitigate declines in subjective well-being, we used a Qualtrics XM panel to conduct a nationally representative survey of youth ages 10–18 across the United States (n = 624) between 30 April and 15 June 2020. Survey questions focused on frequency of participation in outdoor activities before and during the pandemic, as well as changes in subjective well-being. Paired t-tests revealed decreases in both outdoor recreation participation (64% reported declines) and subjective well-being (52% reported declines). A regression model examining correlates of changes in subjective well-being (R2 = 0.42) revealed strong associations with changes in outdoor play (B = 0.44, p < 0.001) and nature-based (B = 0.21, p = 0.016) activities. Adolescents’ from all backgrounds who participated in these activities during the pandemic reported smaller declines in subjective well-being. Results highlight the critical role that time outdoors and time in nature play in bolstering adolescents’ resilience to stressors such as the COVID-19 pandemic and underscore the need to facilitate outdoor recreation opportunities for youth during times of crisis.

Research Authors:

S. Brent Jackson, Kathryn T. Stevenson, Lincoln R. Larson, M. Nils Peterson and Erin Seekamp

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We Acknowledge
Nature Play WA acknowledges the Whadjuk people of the Noongar Nation, as the custodians of the land where our team lives and works. We also acknowledge the traditional custodians throughout Western Australia and recognise the continuing connection of Indigenous people to their land, waters, sky, culture and community. We pay our respect to all Indigenous people of this land; ancestors, elders and young ones.