Research suggests that spending time in nature can boost mental and physical health and improve creativity. Researchers from the American Public Media Research Lab wondered how often people get outdoors, and what prevents them from spending more time in nature.

Researchers asked a representative sample of Americans two questions:

  1. “How often do you spend free time in nature?” Examples of eligible activities included visiting a park or beach, or taking a hike. It did not include organized sports like baseball or basketball. Frequency responses ranged from several times per week to never.

  2. “What is the single biggest thing that keeps you from spending more free time in nature?” These free-form responses were grouped into categories to aid analysis.

How often we get outdoors

The survey indicated that two-thirds of American adults spend free time in nature at least once or twice a month, including nearly half who said they spend time outdoors at least once a week.

Among adults, the groups that most often spend free time in nature are those age 18-34, those with college degrees and those in the North Central — which includes North Dakota, Minnesota, South Dakota and Wisconsin — and Western states. About one-third of each of those groups reported spending time in nature “several times a week.”

One in every six American adults, though, reported “never” spending free time in nature. The groups that are most likely to stay indoors include those age 65 or older, those from lower income households and African Americans.

Question: “How often do you spend free time in nature? This includes things like going to a park, going
for a hike, or going to the beach. This does not include activities like organized sports such as basketball
or baseball.” Source: APM Survey (April 30 – May 5, 2019). “Don’t know” responses are not shown.
Question: “How often do you spend free time in nature? This includes things like going to a park, going for a hike, or going to the beach. This does not include activities like organized sports such as basketball or baseball.” Source: APM Survey (April 30 – May 5, 2019). “Don’t know” responses are not shown.

Those in their traditional retirement years are close to three times as likely as younger adults to avoid — or feel prevented from — spending free time in nature. Of those age 65 or older, 32% indicated they never spend time in nature, compared to 12% among those age 18-64.

Those from households with annual incomes below $25,000 are also twice as likely as those from households with annual incomes above $75,000 to never spend time in nature.

Non-Hispanic Black adults are twice as likely as non-Hispanic Whites to indicate they never spend free time in nature.

Reasons for not spending more time in nature

When asked about “the single biggest thing that keeps you from spending more time in nature,” the most common responses had to do with work obligations.

Nearly one-third of respondents gave responses similar to the one given by a 43-year-old woman from North Carolina: “Having to work, not much time left to do it.”

Work-related reasons are the most common category of responses for all demographic groups we are able to assess in this survey, except for those age 65 or older. These responses are especially common among those age 35-54, parents and Hispanics.

Health-related responses are the second most common reason people give for not spending more time in nature. Respondents indicate a variety of health and disability concerns including difficulty walking, blindness, and heart problems.

Health-related issues are the leading barrier to spending more time in nature among those age 65 and older. In addition, this category of responses is especially common among those of all ages from households with annual incomes below $25,000.

Other reasons for not spending more time in nature include a general lack of time, school and other obligations, the weather, lack of interest, lack of money, bugs and other hazards, as well as age and logistics.