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New Harris Interactive Study Finds that Participating in Outdoor Activities Improves Mental and Physical Health

January 30, 2004

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Dana Donley
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* 90% of current participants in outdoor activities started between five and eighteen

* Approximately 80% of outdoor participants say that outdoor activities decrease stress, promote feelings of accomplishment, and make them feel younger

* 79% of outdoor participants feel that outdoor activities strengthen family relationships

A new national study just released by Outdoor Industry Foundation conducted by renowned research firm Harris Interactive®, based in Rochester, New York, found that Americans who participate in at least one outdoor activity on a regular basis reap mental and physical health benefits. The study, Exploring the Active Lifestyle, shows that outdoor activities greatly enrich lives by reducing stress levels and connecting people with family and friends. Harris Interactive researchers also found that people are more likely to be active throughout their lives if they start outdoor activities at a young age.

Outdoor Participation — The Natural Solution to the Obesity Crisis

Outdoor participants are proactive about their health and outdoor activities are part of their healthy lifestyle.

•79% of participants are proactive about their health
•50% of participants participate in outdoor activities as the main way they get their exercise
•15% cited a desire to lose weight as their reason for starting outdoor activities after a lapse in involvement

The Outdoors Is a Natural Cure to the Blues

The research shows that almost 90% of Americans age 16 and older feel that getting outdoors reduces their stress levels and leaves them with a sense of accomplishment. The findings are especially significant given that many experts attribute high stress levels and low self-esteem to depression.

The Harris Interactive study shows that participants are involved in outdoor activities for more than just the physical benefits and that they recognize the importance of the emotional benefits of participation.

Harris Interactive results:

•88% enjoy the feeling of accomplishment when participating in an outdoor activity
•88% feel the natural setting allows them to escape the pressures of everyday life
•79% believe it keeps them feeling young
•76% feel it allows them to connect with themselves

In general, there are few differences in attitudes driven by age. If a participant is involved in outdoor recreational activities, they get the same emotional benefits regardless of how old they are.

Outdoor Recreation Strengthens Family Relationships — Families that Play Together, Stay Together.

Due to the emotional benefits, participating in outdoor activities is a life-long experience that people want to share with others, especially family members. In addition, the majority of people participating feel that active outdoor activities strengthened their family relationships. This is an important finding in a generation where almost 50% of the population is divorced.

Harris Interactive results:

•79% feel that experiencing outdoor recreational activities together has strengthened their family relationship
•55% would like their children to experience more outdoor recreational activities

The Secret to Success? Start Young!

The key to being a life long active outdoor participant is to start young. Participation in human powered outdoor activities is an ingrained behavior. Research shows that 90% of current outdoor enthusiasts have been participating since they were young. Starting at a young age teaches children to love and appreciate the outdoors. And the personal challenge and health benefits are what keeps them participating throughout their lives.

Harris Interactive results:

•90% of active adult participants started between the ages of 5 and 18
•The average age Americans start their favorite activity is 18 years old
•41% cited parents/guardians/family members as the number one influence for getting involved in outdoor recreation
•33% cited friends and peers as big influencers
•Personal challenges and health benefits are what keep people active throughout their lives
•There’s a very good chance that if a person becomes involved in one activity, that they will be interested in trying other activities, thus raising their activity level overall throughout their life

Barriers to Being Active

The largest barrier to participation in outdoor activities is time, not lack of interest, even for young adults.

Harris results:

•Time commitments related to school, children and household maintenance are the major reasons non-participants under the age of 44 have lapsed from their outdoor activities
•The 45+ age group are more likely to cite physical health reasons, injury and “just don’t enjoy the activity anymore”
•The biggest lapse in outdoor involvement takes place between the ages of 25-44, single or married and with or without children
•Even though people aren’t involved in outdoor recreation anymore, 24% state that they would like to get back into it at some point in the future

How to Get Started – It is Never Too Late!

The following are what most people feel are effective ways of getting their children, and themselves, more active:

•Turning off the TV
•Involvement in school programs and outdoor clubs (especially for parents who are busy)
•Parent organized activities (time together with children)
•Joining an outdoor recreation group that organizes regular outings
•Organized work/employer-sponsored activities

Most Popular, Affordable and Easily Accessible Activities

The three activities that were consistently cited in the Harris study as the most popular, affordable and easily accessible activities are:


Hiking, biking and camping have stood the test of time. They have the greatest longevity of any of the human powered outdoor sports. In addition, people who enjoy these activities are more likely to also try other sports such as climbing, downhill skiing, snowboarding, kayaking, cross country skiing, trail running and snowshoeing.

Exploring the Active Lifestyle, an Outdoor Industry Foundation Consumer Outreach Report, was conducted as a means to identify how, why, and in what activities American consumers enter the outdoor market and what either sparks their involvement or bars their participation. A nationally representative sample of 7,673 respondents were screened for their participation or non-participation in various outdoor activities. The survey was conducted online among a total of 2,045 (participants) qualified respondents ages 16 year and over from October 17th, 2003 to November 3rd, 2003. In addition, select information was collected on the remaining 5,628 non-qualifying respondents. A copy of the study is available upon request.

Outdoor Industry Foundation (OIF) is the non-profit foundation established by Outdoor Industry Association (OIA) to support programs that increase participation in outdoor recreation and to educate the public about the economic and recreational benefits of the conservation of wild lands. OIA was founded in 1989 and provides trade services for over 4000 manufacturers, distributors, suppliers, sales representatives and retailers in the Outdoor Industry. Members include recognized brands and retail stores such as Columbia Sportswear, Eagle Creek, Galyan’s, JanSport, Kelty, Malden Mills, Merrell, Mountain Hardwear, Patagonia, Timberland, The North Face, Pearl Izumi, REI, Salomon, Swiss Army Brands, W.L. Gore, Yakima, among numerous others. OIA programs include: industry research, representation in Washington D.C., professional education and consumer outreach as well as cost-saving benefits for outdoor companies.
Harris Interactive® ( is a worldwide market research and consulting firm best known for The Harris Poll®, and for pioneering the Internet method to conduct scientifically accurate market research. Headquartered in Rochester, New York, U.S.A., Harris Interactive combines proprietary methodologies and technology with expertise in predictive, custom and strategic research. The Company conducts international research through wholly owned subsidiaries—London-based HI Europe ( and Tokyo-based Harris Interactive Japan—as well as through the Harris Interactive Global Network of local market- and opinion-research firms, and various U.S. offices.

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