Go outside and play! Most of us who came of age in the pre-digital era recall that particular command from mom or dad. In neighborhoods across America, kids were forced out into the sunlight and told to entertain themselves. And we did – until, that is, came another parental call, “Dinner!” (or “Lunch!” if it was summer break).
Today, with epidemics in childhood obesity, depression, anxiety, ADHD, and addictions to digital gadgets, it may be time to resurrect those old practices. Turns out, mom and dad were right, and there are numerous students and surveys demonstrating that being outdoors on a regular basis is very, very good for kids.
How good? Read on.
Across the globe there is growing concern about children’s eyesight, with some studies suggesting kids’ eyesight is worse than it was a generation ago. In some areas of China, for example, a whopping 90% of high school students suffer from shortsightedness (myopia). And similar trends are occurring in Europe, the Mideast, and elsewhere. Common sense tells us that too many kids are spending too much time indoors staring at digital screens, right? But the good news is that spending time outside can reduce rates of myopia by as much as 23%. A study published by the American Academy of Opthalmology found that for every hour per week a child spent outdoors, his or her chances of developing myopia dropped an additional two percent.
Improved Eating Habits
It’s a challenge as old as time itself: getting kids to eat healthy food when tastier, less healthy alternatives are available. How to reverse this habit? By pushing your kids outside and planting them (pun intended) in a garden. By teaching your kids how to plant, cultivate, and harvest their own vegetables and fruits, you make it more likely they will eat foods that are healthy for them. For more on the benefits of gardening with your child, check out this article from PBS.
Just about all of us know one or more kids diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). But did you know being outdoors has been shown to have a calming influence on kids and even to help reduce ADHD symptoms? And we’re not just talking about hyperactivity here. With kids’ increasingly glued to digital devices and social media, rates of anxiety and depression are skyrocketing. Get your kids to turn off the devices, leave them in the house, and head outside, which studies suggest has a soothing effect on jangled nerves.
You thought we’d start with this one, right? It’s obvious for a reason – kids racing about playing tag, romping on a playground, or exploring a forest gets the heart beating, the lungs breathing, and endorphins rushing. Vitamin D deficiencies are on the rise, so soaking up some sun every day can help. Outside play also improves agility, stamina, strength and muscle coordination.
Passive consumption of media tends to dull the senses and do little to nothing for neurological development. Playing outside – or even just taking a simple walk/hike – does wonders for a child’s creative capacities. One study involving four separate experiments found that walking alone increases ‘ideation’ during and after the walk. Author Richard Louv says kids today suffer from ‘nature deficit disorder,’ meaning they spend far too much time being entertained (inside, usually) than being forced to think creatively in order to entertain themselves. So the next time your kids complain about being bored, send them outside and tell them what our parents told us: entertain yourselves.
We’ve barely touched on the myriad benefits of being outside (for kids and adults). One thing is certain, however: many of the ills facing our children can be overcome by simply requiring them to spend a brief period of time outdoors every day, rain or shine.