Time Spent Outdoors, Depressive Symptoms, and Variation by Race and Ethnicity

Am J Prev Med. 2016 Sep;51(3):281-90. doi: 10.1016/j.amepre.2016.05.004. Epub 2016 Jun 16.


Introduction: Numerous studies have explored neighborhood environmental correlates of mental illnesses, presuming that the time individuals spend in their environment can confer benefit or harm based on environmental characteristics. However, few population-based studies have directly examined the relationship between time spent outdoors and mental health, and little work has been done to explore how experiences differ by race and ethnicity. Though some have proposed "doses of outdoor time" to improve health, the absence of information about the benefits conferred by particular "doses," and expected baseline levels of outdoor time, are needed to inform the development of recommendations and interventions.

Methods: This study examined the relationship between time spent outdoors and depression among a population-based sample of American adults, characterized current levels of time spent outdoors by race and ethnicity, and examined how the relationship between time spent outdoors and depression varies by race and ethnicity. Descriptive statistics and survey regression models were used to examine data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey for 2009-2012.

Results: Findings provide evidence that time spent outdoors is associated with fewer depressive symptoms, but this benefit may not be equally distributed by race and ethnicity. Descriptive analyses also reveal differences in time spent outdoors among different racial and ethnic groups.

Conclusions: Study findings support the notion that increasing time spent outdoors may result in mental health benefits. However, this study questions whether that benefit is experienced equally among different groups, particularly given differences in occupational experiences and environmental characteristics of neighborhoods.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Depression / diagnosis
  • Depression / ethnology*
  • Environment*
  • Ethnicity*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Nutrition Surveys
  • Racial Groups*
  • Residence Characteristics
  • Socioeconomic Factors
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Time Factors
  • United States