Youth Voices: The Great Outdoors

Honorable Mention
Katie B., 6th Grade, Ellisville, MO
All Kids Outdoors Scholastic-OAK Youth Essay Contest
Youth Voices Blog Series

The Great Outdoors

Swinging, sliding, and climbing at parks are only for fun, right? Not true! Parks and outdoor spaces are not only for fun, but are actually necessary for the world. Parks and outdoor spaces improve our health, environment, and relationships.

Parks and outdoor spaces improve our health. Specifically, by going to the park, a person’s stress is decreased and happiness increased. Researchers from Finland set out to prove that parks decrease stress. When we are stressed, we release a hormone in our bodies called cortisol. The higher your stress, the more cortisol is found in your body. The researchers from Finland found that the people’s cortisol levels were lower in the park environments than in the city. They concluded that parks relax us more than being in the middle of the city (Tyrvainen and Kagawa 8). Not only by going to the park does stress decline, but feelings of happiness increase. When you exercise at the park, endorphins and serotonin are released. Endorphins are chemicals that are released in your brain with exercise. They make you feel more positive and have a better outlook on life. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter in your brain that is balanced by exercise to make you feel less anxious and depressed (Breuning 32 and 37). Overall, you feel happier when endorphins and serotonin are energized by exercising in the park. Parks and outdoor spaces also improve our health by strengthening our physical health. By being active in a park, you will lose weight, lower your blood pressure, and strengthen your muscles (Laino 2).

Original Artwork by Katie B.

We are so fortunate to have parks improve our health, but we are equally lucky to have parks improve our environment. The trees in parks and outdoor spaces improve our environment by removing pollutants from the air. Air pollution needs to be eliminated because it increases the risk of cancer and can cause breathing problems. Fortunately, trees trap dust, ash, pollen, and smoke from the air which help to prevent our lungs from being damaged by these pollutants (“Environmental and Nature’s Benefits” 1). A second way that parks improve our environment is by decreasing crime. Recent studies have found that maintaining green spaces, like parks, lower crime in cities. One theory to explain this finding is that well-kept lawns and community spaces encourage people to spend more time outside. While in those spaces people tend to keep a close watch in the areas which helps prevent crime. Another theory is that parks increase social activity bringing in more people and thus pushing out crime. Finally, parks may bring more positive interactions and a greater sense of community which increases ownership of the space and decreases criminal behavior (Spector 1).

Parks are great to help improve our environment, but they also improve our relationships. First, parks give a place to go to meet new people. With all the people interacting, it is a wonderful place to join in with a group to engage in the activity that they are doing at the park. In order to meet new people at the park, you don’t have to go through an awkward silence by trying to come up with small talk. Instead, you just join in the activity and the social connection is made through the common activity. Second, parks increase a sense of community. Children are playing together and praising each other. Just think about the first time you went to the park and you were leery of going down the big slide. Often, you watched others and those around you would give you the courage to try it. Those experiences tie us together with others rather than being isolated in our homes. We feel cared for and needed by others.

Although there are several reasons why we need parks, not everyone believes that we need to build new parks. Some people recommend that we should not build any new parks because the parks that we have are not currently being maintained well. For example, it is reported that Grand Canyon National Park needs $100 million to repair the water system (Watson and Wilson 1). People opposed to building new parks become outraged when money is spent on building new parks. In contrast, those who are supporters of building new parks know that all communities deserve to have parks in order to build relationships, fight crime, and improve health. No city in our world should be excluded from having the benefits of parks just so that national parks are better maintained (“Eight Reasons” 1).

In conclusion, parks and open spaces have numerous benefits beyond only their entertainment value. Specifically, parks improve our health, environment, and relationships. Parks are necessary to improve our physical and mental health, keep our environment clean and safe, and strengthen our friendships. Due to these benefits, available land should be used to build new parks. We need clean and safe places to play, exercise, and meet new friends. Please remember the next time to vote “yes” in your city to create funds to build new parks. All of our cities need the great outdoors!

Published by Jackie Ostfeld, OAK Chair

My name is Jackie Ostfeld. I am the co-founder and Chair of the Outdoors Alliance for Kids and the Director of Sierra Club's Outdoors for All campaign. I am an advocate for connecting kids with nature. Views are my own.

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