Kids have long school days, which are often followed by homework, after-school activities, and more and more hours of screen-time. Research shows that children are spending less and less time outdoors. In fact, children today spend 50% less time participating in unstructured, outdoor play compared to children in the 1970s. With technology use up and time spent outside down, kids’ health is suffering.
Research shows that a lack of outdoor experiences and a more sedentary lifestyle can impact our physical health, but it’s equally (or more) important to note that children’s mental health is also suffering in a major way. Worry, anxiety, and depression are at an all-time high, and it is no coincidence that this corresponds with less time outside and more time watching screens in a fast-paced, overscheduled, and busy lifestyle. Time spent in the outdoors exploring, being active, and playing is critical to a child’s health and well-being. In fact, it’s important for us all!
When kids spend more time indoors and less time outdoors, they are missing out on so many health benefits. Check out some of these incredible gifts that nature has to offer!
- Fresh oxygen: Stepping outside and breathing in the fresh air clears your lungs, boosts your immune system, increases your energy, and helps you digest food.
- The sun: Spending time in the sun triggers your brain to release a “feel-good” hormone call serotonin. Serotonin lifts your mood and helps you feel calm and focused. (For additional information on happy hormones in the brain and how they are affected by the sun and screens, read more on Sunshine, Screen-time and Serotonin.
- Dirt: Yep, that’s right! Dirt contains healthy bacteria and microbes that help naturally build up your immune system. So go out and get dirty!
- Terpenes: Did you know that plants produce natural stress-relieving chemicals? These chemicals, called terpenes, have a calming effect that can lessen anxious feelings.
- Creativity: Unstructured play, sometimes called free play, is creative play motivated by desire and curiosity, with no set goal and endless possibilities. Unstructured play in nature inspires you to use your imagination and creativity. It allows you to come up with new ideas, solve problems, practice flexible thinking, and learn how to stay safe while exploring, creating, and having fun.
- Hands-on learning: Being in nature provides opportunities for you to learn amazing new things. You might grow a garden full of fruits and vegetables, learn new animal and insect species, or identify different plants and trees. You can also learn more about yourself!
- Your other senses: Playing in nature helps you to develop better posture, balance, and coordination. When you bend, twist, spin, and rock your body, you are helping to develop your vestibular sense (sense of balance) and proprioceptive sense (sense of where your body is in space).
- Happy chemicals: When you run, skip, stretch, and play outside, you are improving your physical, emotional, and mental health. You are building your muscles, growing your brain, and releasing happy chemicals called endorphins in your brain! And don’t forget, the sun triggers your brain to release another important happy chemical called serotonin. These brain chemicals naturally improve your mood and help you grow a happy and healthy brain and body!
For tips on how parents can help get kids outdoors and reaping these benefits, check out my blog on the Top 5 Tips for Getting Kids Outdoors.