Wednesday, January 25, 2023
4 Reasons Going Outdoors Improves Children’s Mental Health and Wellbeing

Have you noticed that its only really adults that see bad weather as something that would hold them back from being outdoors. Channel a little Norwegian friluftsliv. (The Norwegians are amongst the happiest people on earth, and getting outside in cold weather is essential to their wellbeing.) There’s a saying that ‘bad weather looks worse through a window’.

Small children love to be outside in all weather - as long as they are suitably dressed for the occasion. But why is that?

Well…yes, it might be the Peppa Pig influence to jump in muddy puddles, but it’s also because it is outdoors is where children can most be themselves. Just like a horse that suddenly frolics and charges around when it finds an open space, children also feel the impact of less rules and restriction than when they are inside. There is a sense of freedom, and that in turn gives them an emotional high. 

When it comes to children’s mental wellbeing, regular opportunities to be outside to play and stretch their bodies and imaginations are absolutely imperative. 

Ben Fogle is an English broadcaster, writer and adventurer, best known for his presenting roles in British television. The television presenter and writer Ben Fogle speaks of how he struggled under traditional classroom pressure as a child, how it left him feeling worthless and lacking in confidence. He claims that the outdoors rescued him, and that feeling comfortable in the wild gave him the confidence to be who he is: “There is a natural simplicity to nature; it is far more tactile and tangible than the classroom. It’s a leveller; it strengthened my character and set me back on track. That’s why...we should focus on wellbeing and encouraging our children to connect with the natural world. I’m not suggesting the abolition of the exam system, but we could certainly cut back to allow more time for children to explore the world around them….We need to bring positivity, health and wellbeing back into our schools.”

Here are four reasons that being outside should be a good and positive part of every child’s day:


According to the World Health Organisation, we spend around 90% of our time stuck indoors. That’s a little alarming considering that fresh air cleans children's lungs, ridding them of impurities such as car fumes and dust, which playing outside will help cleanse. Stuffy air can cause colds, headaches, drowsiness, irritation, sinus discomfort etc. Fresh air will help to energise them, help them sleep better and relieve stuffy symptoms.

Did you know that tech devices like phones, computers and TVs give off positive ions, which are believed to create irritability and bad moods? By being outside, the negative ions found in the great outdoors can help restore their mood.

The World Health Organisation say that outdoor play helps to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, musculoskeletal disorders, insulin resistance and certain forms of cancer later on in life. Physical activity in combination with a healthy diet helps strong bone growth and muscle development. This physical development helps children to master co-ordination, balance, stamina and agility.

Breaking the pressure

There’s a lot of pressure on children nowadays and many find breaking away useful. However, as parents or guardians it can be hard to get them to accept that ‘breaking away’ means not always being on devices, watching TV or youtube or gaming. 

But when you get them outside it’s a different story. Almost all children feel better for the time to clear their head, relax and reflect. 

Did you know that adult lungs have 300 million air sacs. At birth your baby has 50 - 70 million air sacs but they are still not be fully developed. In the first 6 months of your child’s life, they develop a lot of air sacs very quickly. After 6 months, they develop more slowly. Your child’s lung volume - the amount of air their lungs can hold - increases a lot during the first two years of their life. By the time your child is 3, their lungs look like a mini version of adult lungs (Source: The British Lung Foundation). We must make sure children have the healthiest lungs possible - get them to use them! Encourage loud play, shouting and screaming - there’s nothing like letting all those emotions out onto the wind!

Developing Important Communication Skills 

Indoor spaces can often feel crowded, especially in the school environment where can children feel intimidated by the chaos. By offering the option to be outside, children feel able to come out of their ‘shells’. It can offer them the opportunity to talk, play and create freely with their friends, parents, guardians and teachers. This is so important as they build the social skills they need to develop into a confident and strong communicator. 

It has a positive impact on mental wellness

Recent studies have reported a significant increase in mental ill health in children in the UK. Among other things, a lack of regular connection to the outdoors and participation in outdoor activities are major contributing factors.

Government research in 2016 found that 10% of children had not been to a natural environment such as a park for over a year. While ‘green time’ decreases, ‘screen time’ is increasing. Three and four years olds are spending an average of 14 hours on TV per week, and 4% of five to seven-year-olds have their own social media profile.

Being outdoors is linked to physical and mental health benefits, and research shows that feeling connected to nature leads to reduced stress levels, improved concentration and behaviour and better sleep rhythms.

The study performed by a University of Exeter research team, surveyed around 2,500 parents in the UK and Ireland, identifying that during the first lockdown, the mental health of children who played adventurously outside was enhanced compared to those who did not engage in outdoor play. The results demonstrated that children who spent more time playing outside were less likely to have internalising problems such as anxiety and depression.

Helen Dodd, Professor of Child Psychology at the University of Exeter, who led the study, said: “We’re more concerned than ever about children’s mental health, and our findings highlight that we might be able to help protect children’s mental health by ensuring they have plentiful opportunities for adventurous play. This is really positive because play is free, instinctive and rewarding for children, available to everyone, and doesn’t require special skills. We now urgently need to invest in and protect natural spaces, well-designed parks and adventure playgrounds, to support the mental health of our children.”

Dan Paskins, Director of UK Impact at Save the Children, said: “Every child needs and deserves opportunities to play.  This important research shows that this is even more vital to help children thrive after all they have missed out on during the COVID-19 restrictions.  More play means more happiness and less anxiety and depression.”

So what will you do today to make sure you have some outdoor time? Where will you go?