When the COVID-19 pandemic upended many people’s work lives and leisure time, participation in outdoor recreation increased. For example, many national parks saw record numbers of visitors in 2020, according to a report by Penn State University.
A new article published in the journal Land examined how outdoor recreation has changed during the pandemic. The research was led by faculty in Penn State’s Department of Recreation, Park, and Tourism Management in collaboration with the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics.
Results indicated that nearly half of adults from across the United States now participate in outdoor recreation on at least a monthly basis, and approximately 20% may be new to outdoor recreation during the pandemic. Meanwhile, more than 13% of Americans ceased participation in outdoor recreation during the same time period.
B. Derrick Taff, associate professor of recreation, park, and tourism management and lead author on the research, said that participation in outdoor recreation carries both psychological and physiological benefits.
Prior research has established that outdoor recreation helps to release stress and restore people’s sense of well-being. Other research has linked stress to a wide range of health issues, including heart disease, depression, obesity, irritability, headaches, anxiety, and relationship troubles.
“A 20% increase in outdoor recreation in the U.S. is good news for anyone who cares about people’s health or the environment,” said Taff. “It is encouraging from the public health perspective that — amidst one of the more challenging periods in recent history — a new group of outdoor recreationists has emerged, and, because of their participation, they likely benefit from improved health.”
“This creates a tremendous opportunity for park managers to encourage this group of new recreationists to engage in life-long, healthy behaviors,” Taff continued. “Additionally, research suggests that people who recreate in nature have a more favorable view of environmental protection, so this development could increase support for future conservation efforts.”