Ric Cullinane outdoors

Outdoor access is a pathway to good mental health

 By Ric Cullinane 

Instinctively, we believe being outdoors is good for us. As Kiwis, many of us feel a strong pull from our heart to visit beaches, hills, bush, and farms. A pull to wash away the worries.

The good news is that, increasingly, science supports our instinct to get outside.

New Danish research shows spending childhood time in green spaces is associated with lower risk of psychiatric disorders from adolescence into adulthood. The research, which looked at nearly one million people, found positive links between green space and mental health.

And last year educational researcher Associate Professor Tonia Gray noted this close relationship between people and nature:

“Contact with nature can enhance creativity, bolster mood, lower stress, improve mental acuity, well-being and productivity, cultivate social connectedness, and promote physical activity. It also has myriad educational benefits for teaching and learning.”

Australian eye health researchers have even found that children who spend more time outdoors see better. They are less likely to be or become myopic.

Yet the Australian experience is that children spend less time outside that they used to. It’s likely the situation is similar here in New Zealand.

Which all brings us back to our work at the Walking Access Commission.

We know as a country that we need to spend more time outdoors. That means that we need more local access to outdoor spots in our neighbourhoods. Places that we can play and explore that are close to our homes, schools, and places of work.

We also need to replace many of the indoor journeys we make with outdoor ones. We need tracks and trails that pass through nature. We need paths that people can walk and cycle along to get to places that they need to go – shops, schools, and offices.

Advocating and negotiating the public access that allows these things to happen is good for our mental wellbeing. It’s good for our physical wellbeing. And it’s good for our community wellbeing.