Study Finds Simple Nature-Based Activities Boost Students’ Mental Health

by [email protected]

As stress, anxiety, and depression are on the rise among teenagers and college students, researchers of a recent study recommended a simple nature-based activity to help improve the mental health of students.

According to the results of the latest study conducted by the research team from North Carolina State University, engaging in five 30-minute sessions of bird-watching every week could improve mental well-being and reduce psychological distress among college students.

The researchers also found that this simple and easily accessible activity provided better subjective well-being and reduced distress compared to other forms of exposure to nature, such as nature walks.

“There has been a lot of research about well-being coming out through the pandemic that suggests adolescents and college-aged kids are struggling the most. Especially when you think about students and grad students, it seems like those are groups that are struggling in terms of access to nature and getting those benefits,” said Nils Peterson, corresponding author of the study from North Carolina State University.

“Bird watching is among the most ubiquitous ways that human beings interact with wildlife globally, and college campuses provide a pocket where there’s access to that activity even in more urban settings,” Peterson said.

The researchers engaged 112 student participants who were split into three groups: a control group, a nature walk group, and a birdwatching group that was assigned five 30-minute birdwatching sessions. They were then evaluated using a WHO-5 survey, a five-question tool that assessed their well-being on a scale of zero to five based on feelings over the past two weeks.

Although all groups showed improved WHO-5 scores, the birdwatching group, which began with lower scores, ended up with higher scores than the others.

Using a similar questionnaire that measured distress, STOP-D, researchers also noted that nature engagement, particularly birdwatching and nature walks, led to decreased distress compared to the control group.

“The study supports the idea that birdwatching helps improve mental health and opens up many avenues for future research. For example, future studies could examine why birdwatching helps people feel better or the moderating effects of race, gender, and other factors,” the news release stated.

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