10 Reasons Outdoor Activities Can Help Break the Cycle of Poverty

Posted on by SpokaneYFC

According to Business Insider, poverty in our world is one of the top concerns for Americans. As a community, we deeply desire to have people's basic needs met, and yet, few seem to know the best way to go about breaking the cycle of poverty. 

Thankfully, more and more research is coming out on the science of poverty. We are learning how to use that data to help at-risk youth achieve spiritual, physical, and economic well-being. Not surprisingly, more and more studies show that spending time in God's creation may be a key ingredient in achieving well-being in those three areas.  

This is why Spokane Youth for Christ includes outdoor activities in our programming for youth living in under-resourced neighborhoods. In this article, we explain 10 reasons why we believe spending time outdoors can help kids break the cycle of poverty.

If you are interested in joining us on one of our outdoor adventures with youth, we would love for you to join us. Click here to receive more information.


1.) Increased exposure to the sun helps mental health

While we do need to take precautions against sun cancer, spending time in the sun has loads of benefits for kids. 

The main benefits are better sleep and increased levels of Vitamin D. According to John Hopkins, 60% of kids have suboptimal levels of Vitamin D. This means a lack of Vitamin D may be causing kids to experience tiredness, depression, and a depressed immune system. 

Ultimately, spending time in the sun is vital in breaking the cycle of poverty. This is because it can support a healthy immune system and increase their mental health. Both of these things are key to teaching kids how to establish good habits


2.) Builds confidence in low-income youth

A kid who suffers from low self-esteem is less likely to take healthy risks due to a fear of failure. Instead, they are also more likely to care about the opinion of their peers. 

Both of these factors make it difficult for kids to break the cycle of poverty. This is because they will have a harder time trying new things like learning how to budget, applying for high education, or leaving an unhealthy relationship. 

Thankfully, there are some simple things that adults can do to increase confidence in kids. According to a new study by UCL Institute of Education, 4 out of 5 kids reported that spending time outdoors builds their confidence. By inviting kids to go hiking, rock climbing, or mountain biking, we can increase their confidence in just a few hours a week.


3.) Decreases stress, which impacts low-income youth’s ability to succeed in school

Youth living in under-resourced neighborhoods often have stressful and traumatic experiences that impact their ability to transition into adulthood successfully. These kids are more likely to engage in risky behaviors, drop out of school, and struggle with hyperarousal

While counseling and community support are undoubtedly vital when beginning to heal from traumatic events, research shows that spending time outdoors may be a key ingredient to mental health. 

Kids who are given healthy tools for dealing with stress are less likely to engage in some of the risky behavior that many teens living in under-resourced neighborhoods face. 


4.) Increases creativity and problem solving in youth

In 2005, one of the first studies on how poverty affects a child's brain was published. Since then, researchers have found that children raised in poverty have "smaller hippocampi and prefrontal cortical volumes, areas important for memory and complex thought." Because of this, creativity is often affected in teens. 

Lack of creative thinking later impacts other areas of success because creative thinking is necessary for problem-solving, communication skills, and to analyze data. Without these skills, people struggle to be effective employees and use money properly. 

Thankfully, dozens of studies show that spending time outdoors is one way kids can develop their creative thinking skills. One such study, published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine in 2013, proved that even walking in a city park for as little as 25 minutes gives your brain a boost in cognitive functioning. An increase in cognitive functioning improves the ability to think creatively. 


how to help at-risk youth


5.) Teaches youth to take safe risks

Many kids living in under-resourced areas experience traumatic events in their lives. Because of this, they may have a difficult time taking safe risks. Either they are conditioned to be so protective that any risk seems overwhelming, or they have difficulty determining when a risk is too high. 

The good news is that researchers have found that risky play, such as mountain biking or rock climbing, can help develop a kid's risk-management skills. Furthermore, they found that risky play in one's youth can reduce the risk of injury at work as an adult. 

This is why exposing kids living in under-resourced neighborhoods—who normally wouldn't get the opportunity to partake in outdoor activities—to risky play is key to their future success in the workplace. 


6.) Teaches youth resilience in safe environments

You have probably heard (or even said) the saying, "kids are resilient." They are, and they aren't

First, let's define resilience. Resilience is the ability to "bounce back" after a traumatic event. 

Often, kids who go through continued trauma cannot process their experiences until they are in their later teenage years or young adulthood. Then, they often experience depression, anxiety, difficulty getting along with others, or have a hard time creating a healthy family environment for their children. This is because they didn't really learn resiliency as children. Instead, they were solely doing what it took to survive. 

However, resilience is key to many areas of life. It allows people to process difficulty healthily and provides the ability to adapt to new realities. 

Psychologists agree that part of building resiliency is spending time outdoors.

This is because building resiliency is a lot like building a muscle. According to the 2015 study, Addressing "Nature-Deficient Disorder": A Mixed Methods Pilot Study of Young Adults Attending a Wilderness Camp, spending time in nature—experiencing and overcoming failure—builds self-sufficiency and self-esteem. 

Additionally, according to the study, "young people who participate in a wilderness program report significant improvements in positive emotions, relaxation, and less negative emotions and stress."

Therefore, enabling kids to spend time doing outdoor activities builds their resilience muscle and gives them a healthy outlet to go to when they experience future stress or trauma


7.) Teaches kids how to collaborate 

According to Indeed.com, teamwork skills are among the top 10 skills that employers look for when hiring. As many know, teamwork skills are also challenging to develop. This is especially true for kids living in under-resourced neighborhoods who do not have the opportunity to join sports teams or partake in other team activities. 

However, researchers have found that spending time doing outdoor activities teach teamwork skills. Not only is this effective in kids, but companies also use it to increase productivity performance

This is because outdoor activities require that you take care of and listen to one another to stay safe. Particularly in sports like rock climbing, your life literally depends on the other person being vigilant. This is why it is especially important to offer outdoor activities to kids living in low-income neighborhoods—and why it is a critical ingredient in breaking the cycle of poverty. 


8.) Develops executive function in youth who have experienced trauma

Executive function involves our working memory, mental flexibility, and self-control. All of these are key components in healthy adults. However, executive function is not something with which we are born. Rather, we are born with the ability to develop executive function through healthy relationships with our caretakers. 

Unfortunately, many children born in under-resourced neighborhoods do not have the relationships nor support needed to develop executive function. Thus, they struggle to retain information, pay attention in school, and control their impulses. 

Once again, researchers have found that spending time doing unstructured outdoor activities can develop executive function in youth. This means that they may be able to focus better in school and better retain the information they need, which undoubtedly affects their confidence and belief that they can succeed in their future endeavors.


9.) Improves impulse control in youth

Impulse control is the ability to control one's emotions and behaviors. Conversely, according to American Addiction Centers, an impulse control disorder is where one acts in a way that violates others' rights or "is in conflict with societal norms and the law." Because of this, impulse control is another skill that is key to maintaining healthy relationships and becoming a hirable employee. 

However, impulse control is also part of executive function. And, as mentioned above, it is not something with which people are born. Instead, it needs to be developed in children and adolescents. This is why children born in high-stress or traumatic environments often do not develop impulse control.

Spending time doing outdoor activities naturally develops impulse control because it inherently delays reward. (I.e., summiting a rock formation when rock climbing is the reward that comes after a lot of hard work.) And like resiliency, impulse control is developed through use. The more opportunities a kid has to practice impulse control, the more they can build that "muscle." 


10.) Spending Time Outdoors Increases Generosity

In 2014, Juyoung Lee, Dacher Keltner, and other researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, published their findings from a series of experiments that looked at nature's effect on people's willingness to be generous. 

The researchers found that participants of the study who were exposed to natural scenes were more likely to behave generously when playing two economic games. (Participants of the study also showed signs that they were more "trusting and helpful toward others.")

Generosity is an important factor in eventual economic success as an adult. The connection between the two is clearly laid out in Adam Grant's book, Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach to Success. In this book, Grant argues that there is a clear correlation between people who are generous (but not pushovers) and people who have successful careers. 

Therefore, generosity is a key component to eventual economic success and breaking the cycle of poverty. Thankfully, spending time outdoors seems to be a fundamental component in developing generosity in people. 


In the end, ending the cycle of poverty for youth requires many hands and takes many forms. However, spending time outdoors—mainly when outdoor sport activity opportunities are limited for kids who come from low-income families—is crucial to set kids up to live healthy lives as adults. 

If you are interested in joining us on one of our outdoor adventures with youth, we would love for you to join us. Click here to receive more information.































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