Your child’s chance of living a healthy, successful life depends a great deal on what you do for him or her in the first five years. The stress of that responsibility can take a toll on parents and it’s no wonder. You get advice from every angle! However, here’s one simple thing you can do for your child that has a significant impact on development and the health he or she will enjoy for a lifetime.
This generation of kiddos is more likely to spend too much time indoors than any preceding generation for a number of reasons–our dependence on (and let’s face it, our addiction to) electronic devices, cultural obsessions with educational achievements and fear of sun exposure can make us choose indoor activities over the great outdoors time and time again. It’s not just children who are spending less time outdoors, it’s us too!
There is actually a disorder that originates from people spending too much time indoors—the Nature Deficit Disorder. Calling it a disorder may be a bit extreme but it’s clear that technology and other cultural circumstances have greatly decreased the amount of time we spend outdoors. Kids that are isolated from nature tend to display attention problems, obesity, anxiety, depression, fear of the natural world and disregard for life.
Many children prefer the couch to the playground just because they’ve become so accustomed to a sedentary lifestyle that revolves around screens. The average American child is said to spend 4 to 7 minutes a day in outdoor unstructured play and up to 7 hours a day in front of a screen.
Yet studies show that kids who spend a significant amount of time playing outdoors are smarter, happier, more attentive and less anxious than kids who spend a great amount of time indoors.
Here are a few reasons why all of us (but especially our little ones) need to spend some time outside everyday.
For the past several years the average obesity rate in the US has fluctuated between 34-35 percent but this year it’s approaching 40 percent. In Alabama the obesity rate is 33.5%. Starting life with healthy habits like going to the park or a hike on Saturday mornings instead of oversleeping and indulging in big breakfasts can set kids up for success throughout their lifetimes. Afternoon bike rides and evening walks through the neighborhood are two other ideas to get in some simple exercise for you and your kiddos.
Yes, we have to be vigilant about sunscreen and not letting our children get sunburned. However, we can’t let fear of the sun keep us indoors 24/7. Our bodies actually need the sun to create Vitamin D. Vitamin D can affect the serotonin levels in your brain which means it has a direct correlation to your mood. In addition, Vitamin D helps regulate calcium and phosphorus levels in your blood, which is extremely important in maintaining healthy bones. It also supports a healthy immune system, brain, nervous system, lung function and cardiovascular health. Simply put, we were made to be outside in the sunshine! So slap on some SPF 50 and let’s go play!
3. Executive Function.
“Executive Function is a set of processes that has to do with managing one’s self and one’s resources in order to achieve certain goals. It’s an umbrella term for neurologically-based skills that involve mental skills and self-regulation.”
Executive Function is responsible for skills such as paying attention, organizing, planning and prioritizing, starting tasks and staying focused long enough to finish them, understanding different points of view, regulating emotions, problem solving and multitasking.
These are skills that need to be practiced and providing children with unstructured time is a one of the best ways they can learn them. Being outside gives them time to practice these skills by making up their own games, problem solving how to climb playground equipment or ride a bike and simply finding ways to amuse themselves.
Over the last decade, countless studies have been conducted to understand why nature has such a positive impact on our health and well-being. Scientists and sociologists studied various cultures, countries and lifestyles only to discover that those who spend time in nature have a reduced risk of diabetes, heart disease, premature death, stress and high blood pressure.
There is even a type of therapy that has evolved from these studies called “forest-bathing,” which essentially consists of spending time in a greenspace—walking, sitting and even just laying down in the grass.
Kids who learn to appreciate and love nature in their youth will continue to seek it out in their futures. Kids need to walk in the woods, dig in the dirt, climb trees and mountains, play in a stream and just explore the world around them.
Too much time indoors and too much time protecting our kids from the “big, bad world” that we live in today can do much more harm than good.
So give it a try. Send your kids outside. Better yet, GO WITH THEM!