London - Going on camping trips as a Scout or Guide may have simply seemed a fun time away from home for thousands of youngsters.
Decades later, however, they could be reaping a more valuable benefit, scientists say.
They found that former Scouts and Guides enjoy better mental health than their contemporaries, having an 18 percent lower risk of suffering anxiety and mood disorders in middle age.
Researchers believe it is because the scouting and guiding movements get young people outdoors and appreciating nature.
This is a habit they are likely to keep as adults which helps protect against mental health problems.
Those who joined other voluntary and church groups as children did not gain the same benefit, reported researchers at Glasgow and Edinburgh universities.
They said that making friends and learning skills helped Scouts and Guides to develop their confidence, personality and motivation. This helped them to structure their lives and cope better with stress as adults.
The gains were found in the study of almost 10 000 people born in 1958 who joined the movement in the 1970s.
Lead researcher Professor Chris Dibben said: “It is quite startling that this benefit is found in people so many years after they have attended Guides or Scouts. We expect the same principles would apply today.
“So, given the high costs of mental ill health to individuals and society, a focus on voluntary youth programmes such as the Guides and Scouts might be very sensible.”
Mental health was judged using questions such as how often participants had felt calm and cheerful, nervous, downhearted or low over the previous month.
The lower risk of problems applied even when the results were adjusted for the family history of mental health for participants.
The study said that many of the elements which make up the Scout-Guide approach to youth development are implicated in better adult mental health. It cited examples such as exercise, nutrition and diet, contact with nature and the outdoors, positive social relationships, recreation, relaxation and stress management.
The movement “used activities to allow young people to learn ‘to know, to be, to do’ with adults assisting, rather than directing”, added the report in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health.