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

Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2021 Mar 3;18(5):2506. doi: 10.3390/ijerph18052506.


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.

Keywords: COVID-19; adolescents; mental health; outdoor activities; resilience; subjective well-being.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adolescent Behavior*
  • COVID-19*
  • Child
  • Humans
  • Mental Health
  • Pandemics
  • SARS-CoV-2
  • United States / epidemiology