Exciting Outdoor Games Help Prevent Depression and Anxiety in Children

Growing anxiety and depression in children are highly concerning trends in today’s America. However, a new study on child mental health may have found a fine way to keep these mental health challenges at bay.

Look no further than adventure-packed outdoor games.

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Proactive playing adventures causing emotions, such as excitement or even fear, translate into lower anxiety and depression in children who took part in them.

That’s compared with others who didn’t experience such adventure games, according to a new article in the Child Psychiatry & Human Development journal.

Rediscovering Simple Outdoor Play Eliciting Thrills and Excitement

The lead author of the study, Helen Dodd, who is a child psychology professor at the University of Exeter in Britain, emphasized involving children in “plentiful opportunities for adventurous play” is likely to help boost their mental health.

She described her findings as “really positive” since the types of outdoor games that help fend off anxiety and depression in children are “available to everyone” for “free,” without requiring any special skills to practice them.

Dodd called for “urgent” investments in suitable adventure parks, playgrounds, and natural spaces because those are certain to improve children’s mental health.

Her team’s findings are based on two consecutive studies involving samples of 427 parents and 1,919 parents, respectively, of children aged 5 to 11. The studies began in the first weeks of the coronavirus pandemic lockdowns.


Parents were asked to fill in three surveys: one on the games played by their children, one on their children’s mental health before the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, and a third on any depression or anxiety symptoms during the lockdown.

The researchers’ definition of “adventurous play” focused on child-led games involving risk-taking and eliciting emotions, such as “excitement, exhilaration, and dread.”

Both studies discovered if a child played outside more often, he or she would exhibit lower anxiety or depression.

The second study, in particular, found that to be especially true for children living in lower-income households.

Great For Families Who Can’t Afford Specialized Camps

According to the researchers, the latter is due to the fact that families with lower income can afford fewer structured play opportunities similar to outdoor adventure games, such as adventure camps, martial arts, or scout camps.

That means lower-income households can turn to regular, adventure-packed outdoor play to help their children avoid developing anxiety and depression symptoms.

Dan Paskins, head of Save the Children’s UK Impact, commented to Fox News that “more play” brings about “less anxiety and depression” and “more happiness.”

The report notes, however, that in big metropolises, such as New York City, there may be a shortage of safe outdoor places where children can play.

It pointed out the work of Mike Silverman, sports director at the City Parks Foundation, who is striving to create suitable outdoor environments for children.


His nonprofit is hosting on July 9 a “Family Adventure Race” in Queens in order to help hundreds of children, as well as parents, “reduce stress” by taking part in challenges for overcoming obstacles.

The event in question is taking place for the first time in three years.

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