Kids who spend more time in nature become happier adults, Planet Ark reports

Perhaps a snow-cation is in order?
Perhaps a snow-cation is in order? Photo: Thredbo media

It's winter school holidays. Time for perilous ice-skating excursions, movie marathons and. .. planting trees?

Planet Ark is urging kids to do this on National Tree Day as well as enjoy nature, year-round.

Why? They just released a report, Needing Trees - The Nature of Happiness by independent communications research company Pollinate, which shows that kids aren't getting enough time outside and that this has serious consequences for their later mental health.

'Treemen' along with a giant swing, cubbyhouse and jumbo games featured at the National Tree Day launch at Customs House ...
'Treemen' along with a giant swing, cubbyhouse and jumbo games featured at the National Tree Day launch at Customs House forecourt. Photo: Loren Smith

A key finding of the survey, which canvassed 1102 people, was that kids who participate in a third more outdoor activities than their peers are happier as adults.

A 2013 Mission Australia youth survey further supports the decreased nature time-unhappiness link. Nearly one in four young people reported being unhappy with their lives. And Gen-Z may become our unhappiest generation yet; only one in ten children play outdoors more than indoors. A generation ago, three-quarters of kids preferred outdoor play.

Brad Gray, Head of Campaigns at Planet Ark, wasn't surprised by the results. "As greenies we've kind of had the feeling for a long time that being outside and being in nature is good for you, but what the research is now showing is actually some of why that's the case...being able to see natural settings or even better - being in natural settings - creates the dopamine release in the brain and dopamine is basically the wellbeing hormone. So, it makes you feel good. And what we know about the brain increasingly is that it has feedback loops so once it starts to feel good it feels better and goes on and on." 

Planet Ark ambassadors The McClymonts and Costa Georgiadis were on hand to kick off the event.
Planet Ark ambassadors The McClymonts and Costa Georgiadis were on hand to kick off the event.  Photo: Loren Smith

With the average Australian child transfixed by TV for over two hours a day, according to the latest ABS statistics, Planet Ark's reminder is timely.  

Brooke McClymont, of The McClymonts country music fame, is all too aware of the need for a tree change, thanks to her rural roots. With this in mind, she encourages her two-year-old daughter, Tiggy Heart, to be an outdoors kid. "I've taken on how we were brought up as kids... we weren't allowed inside until five o'clock or dinner-time, till the streetlights came on..." And she doesn't mind if dirt or even worms are involved in back-to-nature playtime. In responding to Tiggy's enthusiastic earthworm hunt, she breezily said "enjoy them".

Brooke raised another important medical benefit of sun-dappled play: "She needs vitamin D, we all need vitamin D."

Aside from this and its newly-found huge mental health (and known academic) advantages, encouraging your kids to have less screen and more sun time will ultimately improve lives on global scale. "If kids don't spend time in nature, they won't love it; therefore they won't care about it. So when they're voters, or councillors or parliamentarians, they won't... see it as important", says Brad Gray.

If your wee ones can't wait till National Tree Day to get their hands grubby, guiding them on regular bushwalks or other outdoorsy ventures is enough to fire up their dopamine levels in the meantime. We've always intuitively known it, now science proves it. 

Planet Ark's National Tree Day is on Sunday 26 July and Schools Tree Day on Friday 24 July. 

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