College Students at RRC Polytech are trying to spend more time outside after the pandemic but struggle to make it a priority.

In January, Ducks Unlimited Canada (DUC) published a survey showing that 43 per cent of Canadians spend less than one hour in nature a week, despite research suggesting that two plus hours leads to improved well-being and reduced stress.

Stress among college students has been climbing steadily over the past few years. A 2019 survey from the ACHA-National College Health Assessment II (ACHA-NCHA II) reported over 60 per cent of Canadian post-secondary students regularly experience above-average stress.

Linnaea Rintoul, a 24-year-old RRC Polytech student, said they only spend one hour outside a week and wishes it were more. They said it makes a huge difference and drastically improves their mental health.

“I’ve been making a point to go outside for a walk every day,” said Rintoul. 

The DUC survey highlights that 39 per cent of Canadians are spending more time in nature since the pandemic as people are recognizing the benefits of the great outdoors on mental health.

“If I’m waiting for half an hour for a bus because transit sucks, then it’s an extra half hour I’m in the sun,” said Rintoul, looking on the bright side despite having limited time to spend in nature.

Students get a taste of nature by studying near plants at the RRC Polytech Exchange District Campus on Apr. 8, 2024. (Georgia Dyck)

According to the DUC survey, time constraints were the biggest obstacle to spending time outdoors, but 90 per cent of participants said time in nature reduces stress. 

“It calms my mind,” said Ranindi Gunasekera, a 20-year-old RRC Polytech student. Gunasekera said she prioritizes getting two to three hours outside a week to manage stress but wishes she could be closer to more greenery.

“I don’t think you have to go far to find enough woods and wild to cure what ails you,” said Jaime Manness, author of Hike Manitoba and former RRC Polytech nursing instructor. Manness said she feels lucky to live in a city where trees have always been a priority. 

She recommends FortWhyte Alive, Assiniboine Park, or the Bois-des-Esprits trail in Winnipeg for greenery in the city. 

Hiking has been a source of healing for Manness, a way to reconcile anxiety and trauma from working as an ER nurse. She wrote her book, Hike Manitoba, after deciding to dedicate more time to her mental health.

“Prioritizing self-care is something that educators need to start promoting to students. Workplaces need to encourage it,” said Manness.

“Change starts at the top.”