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outdoor play wellbeing

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How outdoor play improves wellbeing


Were you lucky enough to grow up near trees? Can you remember when they were part of your childhood playtime – a fabulous hiding space and a natural climbing frame? There is simply something about outdoor play that cannot be replaced.

Mental health problems now affect about one in 10 children and young people, according to the Mental Health Foundation, who state that: 

“Being in good physical health, eating a balanced diet and getting regular exercise, and having time and freedom to play indoors and outdoors can help keep children and young people mentally well.” 

Studies also show that spending time in nature improves our wellbeing in many more ways by lowering blood pressure, anxiety levels and boosting our immune systems; and shows that the closer we are to nature, the more connected and happier we feel, and life seems more worthwhile.

In 2008, the New Economics Foundation established a set of evidence-based messages aimed at improving the mental health and wellbeing of a whole population, the ‘Five Ways to Wellbeing’. These five steps have stood the test of time and are still used by the NHS and many other mental health organisations to promote wellbeing at both an individual and a collective level. 

The positive impact of outdoor play

Easily achieved through outdoor learning and play, and by spending time together, the five steps and their messages easily relate to things we can do when we are outside enjoying forest or woodland environments:


We all benefit from spending time with family, friends, and others to boost our mental health and wellbeing. 

Being active

High quality play provides children, young people and adults the chance to be physically active which is also good for health. 

Taking notice

Often called ‘mindfulness’, taking notice of the ‘hear and now’ is proven to help with managing feelings and emotions. Taking notice of the present moment is effortless in a playful, outdoor setting. Being in nature encourages us to be curious, and to observe and appreciate the beauty all around us. 


Trying new hobbies and developing new skills builds self-esteem and broadens horizons. 


An act of kindness offers clear benefits for mental health and wellbeing — and that includes acts of kindness towards the natural world around us. 

Playing is good for all of us!

Playing isn’t just for kids! Somewhere between childhood and adulthood, we stopped playing. As adults, so many of us focus heavily on work and other commitments that we never seem to have time for pure fun, especially like we used to.  

Feel inspired to get outside and play this summer, knowing it’s a proven source of relaxation, a way for all of us to fuel our imagination, help us solve problems, boost creativity and energy, improve relationships, and ultimately improve our health and wellbeing. 

Amongst the many activities happening at Westonbirt, The National Arboretum this summer, their brand-new woodland trails invite us all to be more active, to play games together and feel great. 


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