Improving Health by Spending More Time Outdoors

Did you know that a simple walk through a neighborhood with lots of trees can help calm your mind? Did you ever wonder what it’s like for those who live in neighborhoods with few trees? Did you know that the number of people going out to fish or hunt has been declining over the years even as we are learning more about the power and importance of experiences that connect us to nature and inspire awe? And that spending time in groups outdoors can build the relationships that promote health?

There is evidence that bringing people outdoors and the outdoors closer to people:

  • Increases physical activity;
  • Reduces stress;
  • Fosters community and social relationships; and
  • Improves air quality;

…all of which improves human health. But not everyone in Oregon has access to outdoor activities and places, which means that not everyone gets these health benefits.

 Oregon Action Framework for Health and the OutdoorsThat’s why a diverse group just launched the Oregon Action Framework for Health and the Outdoors. The Framework was built by the Oregon Public Health Institute, Willamette Partnership, Portland State University’s Institute for Sustainable Solution, The Intertwine Alliance, and Solid Ground Consulting.

Basic Ideas for Action

Communities – especially those experiencing disparities – will create projects that address their own health and outdoors priorities. A core team and partners support this work by:

  • Raising funds and making grants to the community projects;
  • Supporting aligned policy efforts at various levels;
  • Developing and implementing a strategic research agenda; and
  • Providing evaluation support and communication tools.

What kinds of projects are we talking about?

Action Framework partners are looking for projects that seek to improve physical health, behavioral health and mental health, and strengthen social cohesion. We are especially looking for new ideas, or strategies for scaling and strengthening existing ones that:

  • Address barriers to spending time outdoors;
  • Increase parks, trails and trees;
  • Increase access to safe green space; and
  • Activate and scale programs to get people outdoors.

What do we need to do to make this happen?

Most importantly, we need a whole lot of people working together! Energy is building, and we need your help too. REI is building from its Opt Outside campaign and committing to help support community grants and participate in developing a policy playbook. PSU and the US Forest Service will begin working on a regional research agenda to build the evidence for health and the outdoors. The Kelley Family Foundation is supporting the core functions of the Action Framework – communication, coordination, research, and policy.

There are already 25 different efforts in Oregon connecting more people to the outdoors to generate health.

There are already 25 different efforts in Oregon connecting more people to the outdoors to generate health.

Want to know how you can help?

  • Pledge to get yourself and your family outside today at oregon.healthandoutdoors.org;
  • Send us your ideas;
  • Give $50 to get more people outdoors (we are already halfway to our goal of $100,000 by January);
  • Stay in touch as action moves forward;
  • Acknowledge and help to eliminate discrimination that causes communities of color to feel unwelcome in the outdoors;
  • Help us build connections and learn from each other’s work. Tell us about great work you see happening to strengthen the health and outdoors connection in Oregon and beyond, and talk to your local hospital, public health department, outdoor recreation group, school, and everyone else about ways they can help get more people outdoors.

Bobby Cochran
Bobby Cochran is the Executive Director for Willamette Partnership. He has worked on market-based policies for environmental organizations, a water utility, and international efforts. He received a Ph.D./M.A. in Urban Studies/Conflict Resolution from Portland State University, and his Masters in Public Policy from the University of Southern California.