Study Buddy: Why spending time outdoors and in nature benefits your mind and body

  • Being in nature makes us healthier, and makes us feel more connected to other people and the world around us
  • Use the provided pre-reading activity, comprehension questions, vocabulary practice and writing prompt to test your understanding of the article
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Being outdoors can do wonders on your body and mental health. Photo: Shutterstock

1. Pre-reading questions

  1. What are some of the unhealthy habits you have developed?

  2. What are some of the healthy habits that you have developed?

  3. Why do you think people don’t spend more time looking after their mind and body?

2. Comprehension

Read the following text and answer questions 1-16.

Source: Adapted from “Why you should spend time outdoors and in nature – it has benefits for your mind and body, happiness and creativity” by Anthea Rowan, South China Morning Post, 4 June 2022.


1. What is suggested by the statement “a breath of fresh air” (line 1)?
A. changing jobs
B. changing seasons
C. going outside
D. breathing deeply

2. Decide whether the following statements are True, False, or the information is Not Given in paragraphs 2 to 4. Blacken ONE circle only for each statement. (5 marks)
(i) Hong Kong residents spend more time outdoors than people in the US do.
(ii) Spending too much time outside can be bad for you.
(iii) Running is good for your health.
(iv) According to the most recent findings, we should spend at least 140 minutes a week outdoors.
(v) Health conditions like obesity and diabetes are partly due to unhealthy indoor air.

3. Complete the following paragraph with a word or phrase found in paragraph 5. (4 marks)

When you go outside, your blood pressure and (i) ____________ improve, and of course, you’re less likely to use your mobile (ii) ____________. Nature helps with many (iii) ____________, such as hypertension and diabetes, and mental health conditions. Spending more time outdoors helps children lose weight and improves their (iv) _________________.

4. In line 16, what does “get off those little devices” mean?
A. stop using cars
B. stop using mobile phones
C. get off our bicycles
D. get out of the house

5. According to paragraph 5, Dr Lem __________ that the human brain and body has evolved to adapt to life in the city.
A. agrees
B. disagrees
C. neither agrees nor disagrees

6. Fill in each blank with ONE word only. (2 marks)

In paragraph 6, according to Williams, the (i) ____________ of the world’s population will live in urban areas by 2050. Fewer people are now spending time (ii) ____________ than at any time in the past.

7. Each of the following is an example of one type of relationship with nature: indirect, incidental or intentional (paragraph 7). Write the type of relationship in the blank beside each example. (4 marks)
(i) Fishing ____________________
(ii) Looking out the school window at a garden ____________________
(iii) Walking by a pond on the way to school __________________
(iv) Going to the beach ____________________

8. According to paragraph 8, gardening …
A. has multiple benefits for health.
B. leads to over-consumption.
C. is not as good as getting out of the city.
D. is better than hiking in a country park.

9. Based on paragraphs 8 and 9, complete the paragraph below by writing a letter (A to F) in the appropriate blank. ONE option is not used. (5 marks)

Some studies have found that those who choose to (i) __________, the more healthy food they eat. Spending more time (ii) __________ helps our brains focus and (iii) __________. Certain compounds in plants and healthy bacteria in nature (iv) __________ naturally. The four pillars of health are eating well, (v) __________, exercising regularly and interacting with nature.

10. What does “it” in line 46 refer to?

11. Match the main points (A–D) with one of the corresponding paragraphs on the left. Write the correct letter (A–D) on the line next to the paragraph number. ONE main point is not used. (3 marks)

12. What does Williams mean when she says: “it’s good for civilisation” (line 57)?

13. In paragraph 13, find a word that can be replaced by “look after”.

14. According to Milliron in paragraph 13, what is a good way for parents to develop healthy habits in their children?

15. Which of the following tips does Milliron suggest in paragraph 13? Put a tick next to the TWO that apply.
A. Growing plants outdoors is better than growing them indoors.
B. Go to the park regularly.
C. Touch the trees and plants when you’re outside.
D. Learn more about nature.

16. What does “there” in line 64 refer to?

3. Vocabulary practice

  • chronic (adj) – having a disease or problem that lasts for a long time and is difficult to cure or solve

  • gazetted beaches (n phr) – bathing beaches that are managed by the Hong Kong government, with lifeguards, toilets, showers, barbecue sites, etc.

  • head start (n phr) – an advantage obtained by starting to do something before others do

  • illustrative (adj) – helping explain or show something clearly

  • immune system (n phr) – the cells and proteins in your body that help it fight infection and disease

  • incidence (n) – an event, or the rate at which something happens

  • incidental (adj) – happening in connection with something else

  • mass migration (n phr) – the movement of large groups of people from one country or area to another

  • motivate (vb) – make somebody want to do something

Place a letter for the correct word or phrase in the box in each blank.

  1. The average life expectancy of ancient foragers was apparently just 30 to 40 years, but this was due largely to the high __________ of child mortality.

  2. __________ driven by climate change is expected to rise substantially by 2050 and lead to increasing cross-border movements, raising concerns for countries worldwide.

  3. It would be completely __________, not intentional, if a painting was found to be a fake during the course of our investigations.

  4. After people come down with a disease, their __________ must train itself to fight off the virus.

  5. Your girlfriend’s purpose in signing you up for the gym is to __________ you to exercise regularly.

  6. Hong Kong’s __________ may be closed to curb the spread of Covid-19, but there are plenty of other swimming spots to visit.

  7. Over the years, he was never sick, except of course for __________ indigestion because of his poor diet which is common for men who live alone and cook for themselves.

  8. “She could run fast. If you were racing her, you couldn’t ever let her get a/an __________ because she would beat you for sure.”

  9. The video and photos are __________ of the themes in the music.

4. Writing

Write about 300 words for the following question.

A recent article in the South China Morning Post cited research that showed a huge increase in the percentage of overweight young people in Hong Kong compared to those before the 1980s.

Write a letter to the editor discussing the situation, potential reasons for the change, and solutions. Sign your letter Chris Wong.


Going on hikes and gardening are two intentional ways to interact with nature. Photo: Felix Wong


1. Pre-reading questions – sample answers

  1. What are some of the unhealthy habits you have developed? I eat a lot of junk food and drink sugary drinks, especially when I go out for lunch. I should definitely get more exercise, but I have so little time for that.

  2. What are some of the healthy habits that you have developed? I do a lot of walking every day, so I get a lot of sunlight, and my mom makes sure I have a healthy breakfast, focusing more on healthy fats and protein and less on carbohydrates.

  3. Why do you think people don’t spend more time looking after their mind and body? I guess it’s a combination of not enough time, too many other distractions and laziness. At least, those are my excuses. It’s hard to find healthy food in restaurants, and eating healthily at home takes a lot of time to plan meals, shop and cook. Not everyone has time to do that. The online world is so interesting and so much fun that it’s hard to break away from our computers and phones to go outside to exercise.

2. Reading comprehension answers (33 marks)

  1. C

  2. (i) T; (ii) F; (iii) NG; (iv) F; (v) NG

  3. (i) outside/outdoors; (ii) devices; (iii) (chronic) diseases; (iv) eyesight

  4. B

  5. B

  6. (i) majority; (ii) outdoors

  7. (i) intentional (ii) indirect (iii) incidental (iv) intentional

  8. A

  9. (i) C; (ii) E; (iii) D; (iv) A; (v) B

  10. blue space exposure / being near water

  11. (i) B; (ii) A; (iii) D

  12. Nature makes us feel more connected to other people (and to the world around us).

  13. tend

  14. take them outside / get them outside

  15. B and D

  16. nature/outdoors

3. Vocabulary answers (9 marks)

  1. F

  2. H

  3. G

  4. E

  5. I

  6. B

  7. A

  8. C

  9. D

4. Writing – sample answer (458 words)

Dear Editor

A recent article in your newspaper mentioned a study showing a huge increase in the percentage of young people in Hong Kong who are overweight compared to young people before the 1980s. We can also see this problem when we look at photos of Hong Kong young people in the 1960s and 70s and compare them to kids today. Young people tend to be taller today, but they also tend to be much heavier.

I think the number one reason for this change is diet. And I don’t think it is only the fault of young people and their parents. The government, for example, still promotes the Healthy Eating Food Pyramid, with grains and carbohydrates at the base, when this never had any scientific basis to it and was long ago shown to be nonsense by scientific studies. We also have to blame the processed food suppliers and fast food restaurants that put horrible ingredients like high fructose corn syrup and high salt content in so many products. Of course kids are going to get fat and unhealthy eating these harmful ingredients and drinking sugary drinks. But I’m sure most young people have no idea how this food is hurting their health. It is the responsibility of the government, schools and the media to tell students the truth about these ingredients and provide warnings about unhealthy ingredients.

Another reason for this change is that people are busier than they were in the past. In the past, many mothers stayed home and had time to plan, shop and make healthy meals with natural food. Nowadays, most families don’t have time for this, so they often buy take-out food or packaged food with all sorts of unhealthy ingredients. Again, it would be nice if schools, government and media would help families deal with this problem, For example, SCMP could have more nutritionists and dieticians write regular columns or make videos showing parents how to provide healthy, low-cost meals and explaining how these meals will improve their health. And it would be nice if people who can’t afford a subscription could access these valuable articles and videos for free.

Finally, let’s face it: kids spend less time outdoors playing sports than they did in the past. The online distractions are just too powerful. This is the fault of the gaming and social media companies, as well as young people and their parents. Hong Kong has plenty of outdoor resources, such as basketball courts, football pitches, cycling tracks, beaches and hiking trails. Not only can these facilities help young people keep fit, but they can also ensure that they get plenty of sunlight, which has myriad benefits for both physical and mental health.

Let’s work together to improve the health of Hong Kong’s young people.

Yours faithfully
Chris Wong

Sponsored by The Hong Kong Jockey Club

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