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U-M study: Youth report improved physical, mental health after spending time outdoors

Young people walk in a group outside.
Young people walk in a group outside. (University of Michigan)

ANN ARBOR – Spending time in nature could help children and teens feel better, according to a new survey by the University of Michigan.

Researchers used a text messaging poll called MyVoice for their study to gather quick and qualitative responses from teens and young adults ages 14-24. Five open-ended questions were sent to 1,174 participants in September 2020 that aimed to understand how youth perceived nature.

“Our findings suggest that spending time in nature, which youth define broadly as being outside, being around trees and woods and greenery, can have strong public health implications, given that youth might not need to travel as far or spend a lot of money to access nature,” said Astrid Zamora, lead researcher of the report and a fourth-year doctoral student at University of Michigan’s School of Public Health.

“We know that mental health issues are highly prevalent among Americans in general, and we also know that it’s very costly to access and utilize mental health services.”

Of the 994 respondents, many reported that spending time outdoors had a positive impact on their mental health.

Below are some of their findings, according to a U-M release:

  • 52% mentioned that it made them “feel calm when I am out in nature,” 22% said that it relieved stress or “reduces my anxiety” and 17% felt that being in nature positively impacted their physical health and “makes me feel more active and in shape.”
  • 88% want to spend more time in nature, with 22% mentioning barriers impeding them from doing so.

Zamora said that many youth lack access to mental and physical health services in the U.S.

“We know that youth experience a variety of physiological, lifestyle and behavioral changes during this life stage, which may place them at an increased risk of experiencing both poor mental and physical health,” she said in a release. “What we also know is that today’s youth are spending a lot less time in nature than previous generations with the uptake of technology likely being one of many factors associated with this decline.

“We feel this information would be imperative in informing community-level policies and interventions that aim to support youth mental and physical health.”

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About the Author:

Meredith has worked for WDIV since August 2017 and was voted one of Washtenaw County's best journalists in 2019 by eCurrent's readers. She covers the community of Ann Arbor and has a Master's degree in International Broadcast Journalism from City University London, UK.