The Fight against Childhood Depression: Explore the benefits of outdoor activities

By Robyn Bjorrnson 


Robyn Bjorrnson, executive assistant at the Children and Nature Network, says in general, children spend a lot less time outdoors than they used to. She says this lack of time spent playing outside in the fresh air can be harmful to a child’s well-being.

“It damages physical and mental health, contributing to nature-deficit disorder, which is the term used to describe the human costs of alienation from nature,” said Bjorrnson.

Spending time in natural surroundings stimulates children’s creativity. Bjorrnson says there are many positive health benefits associated with outdoor activities for children.

Children who regularly experience nature play are healthier, happier, and test better in school,” Bjorrnson says. “Studies indicate that direct exposure to nature can relieve the symptoms of attention-deficit disorders, improve resistance to stress and depression, increase self-esteem, stimulate cognitive development and creativity as well as reduce myopia and lower child obesity. Outdoor activities for children offer countless benefits for kids’ overall health and wellbeing. Modern education has missed the mark in this area. We have become a more tech savvy society that has crippled the creativity of all our kids. We know that spending time in natural surroundings sparks children’s imaginations and creativity. The outdoors encourages children to actively play, which is good for them, rather than spend time focused on electronic media, television, and video games. Exploring nature is a great way for a family to spend time together and enjoy some healthy activities. Hiking, walking, beach play, camping, birding, tree climbing, fishing, gardening, sailing, are just a few of the endless ways to enjoy nature. And there are more ways in your own backyard or neighborhood.”

Though it can be challenging for parents to convince their children that spending time outdoors can be just as much fun as playing video games and watching television, Bjorrnson says it is important to make outdoor time a priority.

For parents looking for other families interested in outdoor activities for children, Bjorrnson suggests looking for a local Family Nature Club or downloading a toolkit from the Children and Nature Network to get started. Some examples are listed down below. 

Image by Jossuha Théophile

Care for a Pet


Pets provide companionship, helping reduce feelings of loneliness. Taking care of a pet can also give you a sense of purpose and satisfaction. Dr. Kramer cautions, however, that for people with more severe forms of depression, the responsibility of having to care for a pet can backfire. "In general, people often feel pets are reliable and supportive, but it's important to not trivialize depression," he explains. "For some, it may feel like a burden to walk the dog, and people may end up feeling guilty about that." In that case, an animal that requires less attention may still fulfill you; consider a bird, fish, or small mammal.

Get into Gardening

For people managing depression, gardening can be a simple way to interrupt negative thoughts. A study of 28 clinically depressed adults who participated in a 12-week therapeutic horticulture program revealed that the activity could help reduce the severity of depression. The research, published in the Journal of Advanced Nursing in 2010, noted that the effectiveness of the program was linked to how interested the participants became in gardening. Like cognitive behavior therapy, which helps people redirect their thinking, engaging your mind in something else, particularly something creative, can be helpful and uplifting. With gardening, the added benefit of being in sunshine improved outcomes.

Image by Neslihan Gunaydin
Image by Gayatri Malhotra

Turn to Art

Whether it's taking up painting or drawing, learning an instrument, or joining a dance class, art therapy can help people cope with their problems and give them a healthy outlet for expression. According to the American Journal of Public Health, creative engagement can decrease anxiety, stress, and mood disturbances, including depression. Everyone is different in how they respond to treatment, but in general, these natural remedies can be effective at helping to reduce depression. If your symptoms seem serious, always talk to your doctor to find the best treatment.

Turn up the Music

Love a good song? Listening to music is another activity that can help ease depression and loneliness. A 2010 review of studies that focused on listening to music found that, indeed, tuning in to your favorite songs can improve depression symptoms. The researchers also noted that over time, music may have a cumulative effect. The more you include it in your life, the more pleasurable it can become.

Even if what you used to enjoy doesn't seem like fun now, over time these activities in combination with medication and talk therapy could help lift your spirits and improve your mood. And you don't have to rely on anyone else to do them!

Listening to Music