According to estimates from the World’s Children 2021 report by UNICEF, mental health disorders, including depression and anxiety, are now present in 16.3% of European youth aged 10–19 years, an estimate that is higher than the global average of 13.2%.
Sport and physical exercise in the open air is one of the most effective ways to prevent and treat mental health disorders. Physical exercise releases endorphins, which are natural chemicals in the body that create feelings of happiness. Studies have shown that the health benefits of exercise in teens can significantly improve depression and anxiety. Even just 30 minutes of exercise a few times a week can improve overall mood and help reduce symptoms in teens.
There is an urgent need for the development of specific health education and behavior interventions by sports associations and stakeholders to promote physical activities in the open air among adolescents and in particular those suffering anxiety and depression. The benefits of OPEN AIR physical activities are numerous, among which: increased well-being due to contact with the nature, increase safety due to social distancing, lower investment in special equipment, higher level of eco sustainability (decreased use of resources like electricity), and last but not least – the possibility to do activities in rural and depressed urban areas with no sport centers thus involving vulnerable groups.
The OASI project – Open Air Sport for Inclusion – Erasmus+ Sport project, aims to respond to the trend of worsening adolescent mental health in EU countries by taking the challenge to increase physical activities among adolescents in a creative, eco sustainable, cost efficient way. Its main objective is to promote outdoor sports accessible to all and practicable in natural environments without expensive equipment and infrastructure, and to create connections between daily mobility patterns, sport-based activities and new technologies.
The project partners from Bulgaria, Italy, Romania, and Slovakia have discussed and will seek innovative ways to attract participants – adolescents of age 10 and 19 to do physical activities outdoors. Some of the activities will be proposed as a daily routine (walking, cycling to commute from one place to another) others as recreation activities with peers. The purpose is to foster changes for a physically active lifestyle that can last much beyond the project end. Flexibility and creativeness of partners and stakeholders will be the key of success of the project. All project activities will be designed in an accessible and inclusive way and will be open to people with fewer opportunities from depressed urban and rural areas.
The project OASI is part of Erasmus+ KA2 Sport programme.