5 Really Good Reasons to Go Outside With Your Kids
“When I was a kid, I played outside until the sun went down or my mom made me come inside!”
Do you tell your kids stories about how you preferred to play outside during the day when you were their age in an effort to get them to disengage from their digital devices and spend more time outdoors? If you do, you aren’t alone. Today’s youth spend half the time outdoors as their parents did at their age. And, according to The National Wildlife Federation, the average American child spends a mere four to seven minutes participating in unstructured outdoor play each day, compared to a jaw-dropping seven hours engaging in screen time.
The lack of a role that nature plays in the lives of modern-day children is a genuine cause for concern. A growing rate of obesity, as well as anxiety and depression among children, are just a few of the unhealthy conditions that may be directly linked. Fortunately, the solution is fairly simple: families can prioritize spending more time outside together. The result is that they will reap the many immediate benefits associated with getting a healthy dose of the great outdoors.
Here are just a few of the benefits spending time in nature offers families and children:
1) Increased Health and Fitness
Children who experience positive interactions with nature at a park, on a hike through a forest, or during camping trips, tend to be more eager to play outside on a regular basis. More outside time means more movement, which means healthier bodies.
While kids see scrambling over rocks, balancing on logs, and climbing trees as extra fun and exciting play, the adults in their lives know they are getting a whole lot of good-for-their-body exercise. Spending time outdoors fights childhood obesity and builds strength, balance and speed. Additionally, kids who spend more time outside get a healthy dose of vitamin D, which fights off heart disease and diabetes, as well as depression and fatigue.
2) Help for ADHD
There’s some great news for families with children living with ADHD: spending time in nature may serve as a natural treatment. A national study published in the American Journal of Public Health found that spending time in green settings appeared to drastically reduce ADHD symptoms in children. The surprising results applied to all children and did not seem to vary by gender, location, age or income groups. These findings offer families the potential for a natural, side effect-free way to help their children with ADHD.
3) Better Self-Esteem
A report from the University of Sydney in Australia found that teens who spend time outdoors have an easier time socializing and making friends resulting in a huge boost in confidence. Their peers, who use free time to participate in indoor activities like gaming, report feeling more shy, lonely and isolated. Parents can help their kids elevate their self-esteem as teenagers by getting them involved in outdoor activities like hiking, biking, camping, and kayaking early on.
4) Improved Vision
Turns out parents can save money on their kids’ eye care by getting them outdoors more. New eye research reveals that there is growing evidence that spending time outside lowers the risk of nearsightedness in children and adolescents. One study published in Ophthalmology even found that for every additional hour that you get your kids out in nature, their risk of becoming nearsighted drops by about two percent. But, don’t forget to have them where their sunglasses on bright days to avoid damage from the sun’s rays.
5) Reduced Stress & Depression
Numerous studies have shown that a dose of the outdoors reduces stress and depression in both adults and children. Vitamin D from time in the sun battles the blues while getting some distance from the constant buzz of the city helps relieve anxiety and stress.
Additionally, a study by the National Center for Biotechnology Information supports the idea of “forest bathing” or soaking up the forest atmosphere. It states, “The results show that forest environments promote lower concentrations of cortisol, lower pulse rate, lower blood pressure, greater parasympathetic nerve activity, and lower sympathetic nerve activity than do city environments.” In other words, time in nature can lower blood pressure, improve brain and physiological functions, calm the nervous system and even help children sleep better.
Going on extended wilderness trips isn’t something families can necessarily do all the time, but scheduling in a walk in the park, a family bike ride, a trip to a nearby green space, or even a game of ball in the backyard is. These little daily doses of outside time make a big difference in children’s health and wellness, and they make heading out on wilderness adventures less foreign and more exciting for everyone when longer weekend trips or family vacations roll around.
Photos: Andrew Miller, Josh Miller