Mental wellbeing and the outdoors

Posted by Emma Travers on 10/06/2019
99% of women agreed that the outdoors has a positive impact on their mental wellbeing. Photo: Hetty Key

Why do you climb? From getting stronger and ticking off projects to spending time with our friends, we all have our reasons. However, there is increasing evidence that activities like climbing, mountaineering and hiking are good for our minds as well as our bodies.

For many, it's an escape - as you take on the challenge ahead your mind quietens focusing solely on the task in hand. But what is it about spending time in the mountains and hills that makes us feel this way?

A recent survey, run by the independent research project Women in Adventure looked to find out precisely that, asking over 2,500 women about how they spend their time outdoors and the effect this has on their happiness, worthwhileness, life satisfaction and anxiety. It also examined the impact adventure sports has had on other areas of their lives, exploring which sports have the most significant effect on wellbeing.

Hetty Key, lead researcher at ​Women in Adventure​, said: “Instinctively I think we know that spending time outdoors is good for us. When I launched the survey, I felt there was a lack of accessible information showing how and to what extent the outdoors impacts our lives.”

Launched in October 2017, the survey quickly gained traction receiving over 2,500 responses from 44 different countries with hundreds of women reaching out to share their personal stories. The results were near unanimous - a staggering 99.6% of women agreed or strongly agreed that the outdoors had a positive impact on their mental wellbeing. Self-esteem, resilience, outlook on life and future prospects also all saw a benefit from time outdoors.

When comparing the different adventure sports, the results showed that each discipline had a different effect on mental wellbeing. Mountaineers (15% of survey respondents) felt what they did in life to be highly worthwhile, sitting above the survey average, whereas hikers (the most popular sport at 62%) demonstrated that their time outside led to slightly better than average happiness and anxiety. Climbers (21% of survey respondents) sat below the survey average throughout. However, one thing was evident across all sports - the outdoors obviously had a positive effect on the lives of these women in adventure, with mental wellbeing improving with increased participation.

“Now the results are published, clearly showing the benefit the outdoors has on our mental wellbeing, I want to use them to drive positive change,” said Hetty. “I hope activity providers and those who are invested in promoting the outdoors will utilise this information to help widen participation, improve accessibility and increase diversity.”

The full results of the survey are available for download via the Women in Adventure website.


We want to say a big thanks to every BMC member who continues to support us through the Coronavirus crisis.

From weekly Facebook Lives and GB Climbing home training videos, to our access team working to re-open the crags and fight for your mountain access, we couldn’t do it without you.

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25/06/2019
Next step: in an age of increasing climate consciousness, can anyone figure out which activities give the most increase in well-being per unit of ecological footprint? Including some more mainstream leisure activities e.g. running, playing football, watching telly, shopping?

I imagine climbing could score either very high or very low in comparison, depending on transport choices.

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