The other day a parent of one of our campers praised our After School Adventures program, but not for how much fun her child was having. Instead, she mentioned that her child’s mood is noticeably more upbeat after she spends a couple hours kayaking, hiking, slacklining or stand up paddleboarding with us.

Above all else, The Northwest Passage prioritizes safety and fun, but the ancillary effects of outdoor adventures span well beyond simply having a good time.

Many of the precautions that have been put in place to reduce the risk of contracting COVID-19 (e.g. remote learning, spending more time at home, suspension of some team sports, reduction / dissolution of physical education, etc.) are essential to safeguarding public health but can put mental stress on individuals. 

Before the pandemic, the CDC estimated that only 24% of youths aged 6-17 exercised for the recommended 60 minutes per day. Now that fewer kids are attending PE, riding bikes to school, participating in sports, or even walking school hallways and stairwells, it’s likely that number is even lower now. 

The benefits of exercise on young people’s physical health are well documented. But less well circulated are the positive effects on mental health. Moderate to vigorous physical activity have been proven to promote cognitive performance (especially executive functions) and reduce the onset and severity of depression. 

Physical activity is obviously a crucial component of a happy, healthy life. We at The Northwest Passage think that physical activity in an “adventure setting” (on a waterway or trail or other natural area) provides additional benefits.

When Northwest Passage guides lead trips in the polar regions we focus on thriving in adverse conditions rather than simply surviving them. Indeed the entire world has seen its fair share of adversity over the past year. But we believe (and we’re so pleased that this parent has recognized) that outdoor adventures, even if they’re in your hometown, are a key component to thriving instead of settling for surviving.