Health and Wellbeing in an Outdoor and Adventure Sports Context

This blog is an adaption of a recent publication published here


Outdoor and Adventure Sports (OAS) provide opportunities for generating physical and psychological benefits, whilst also delivering unique qualities unrelated to physical activity in nature and directly impact on the health and wellbeing of participants and provide ideal interventions for mental health outcomes. Research on the outcomes of OAS has been growing over the last three decades and our understanding of how they enhance health and wellbeing is developing. The traditional notions are being questioned and individual differences, such as feelings of connection to nature, and the person-environment relationship are being investigated. Outdoor and adventurous activities, from forest schools to extreme sports and beyond are more nuanced examples of physical activity in nature allowing focus on reconnecting people to the natural world. A recent special edition edited by myself and colleagues from Leeds Beckett Univeristy( concerning the impact of OAS on health and wellbeing, added to our understanding of (i) the diverse and powerful outcomes derived from adventure experiences (ii) how adventure experiences facilitate these outcomes, and (iii) how best to design outdoor and adventure experiences if health and wellbeing is the program aim.

Health and wellbeing outcomes are available across multiple participant groups. Submissions pointed to a deeper, more nuanced understanding of how adventure facilitates the positive outcomes. Ideas such as adventure facilitating an embodied experience seemed key for many authors. Learning from adventure experience is directly attributable to individual capacities to continue to adapt to everyday life when interventions are applied to a military context. Designing adventure experiences to facilitate health and wellbeing outcomes requires different underlying principles than planning for other outcomes such as skill development. Various papers within this special edition point to a more informed understanding of the principles involved. Intervention design must be deliberately intended to impact on everyday life, be developmentally appropriate, progressively adaptable and be evidence-based. A sound theoretical framework that justifies and supports this process is vital. Designing interventions that facilitated immersive, optimal, integrated and meaningful experiences rather than short, disconnected interventions seems key.
Key learnings from this special edition include:

1. OAS are powerful facilitators of health and wellbeing outcomes. However, they become even more meaningful to people when deliberately designed for such outcomes.
2. Unique aspects of OAS activities and programs exist, such as the role of discomfort, immersion in nature, progressive adaptability and physical challenge, that cannot be replicated by similar activities (for example traditional sports) which are directly linked to the development of enhanced health and wellbeing outcomes.
3. Design of OAS program need to consider the intended outcomes, active ingredients of potential change, the group/individual characteristics, the environment and the activities. One size does not fit all, and it is not ideal to use generic ‘off the shelf’ program designs.
4. Health and wellbeing outcomes from adventure experiences have a long-term positive impact on everyday life

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