Grab a pair of walking shoes, a bicycle or a set of disc golf frisbees. Spring is here and it is beckoning.
But, thanks to video games and other electronic devices, childhood has moved indoors. Sadly, the National Wildlife Federation reports that the average American boy or girl spends as few as 30 minutes in unstructured outdoor play each day, and more than seven hours each day in front of an electronic screen.
This shift inside profoundly impacts the wellness of our nation’s kids. Childhood obesity rates have more than doubled the last 20 years; the United States has become the largest consumer of ADHD medications in the world; and pediatric prescriptions for antidepressants have risen precipitously.
Our kids are out of shape, tuned out and stressed out, because they’re missing something essential to their health and development: connection to the natural world.
• Outdoor play increases fitness levels and builds active, healthy bodies, an important strategy in helping the one in three American kids who are obese get fit.
• Spending time outside raises levels of Vitamin D, helping protect children from future bone problems, heart disease, diabetes and other health issues.
• Being out there improves distance vision and lowers the chance of nearsightedness.
• Exposure to natural settings may be widely effective in reducing ADHD symptoms.
• Schools with environmental education programs score higher on standardized tests in math, reading, writing and listening.
• Exposure to environment-based education significantly increases student performance on tests of their critical thinking skills.
• Children’s stress levels fall within minutes of seeing green spaces.
• Play protects children’s emotional development whereas loss of free time and a hurried lifestyle can contribute to anxiety and depression.
• Nature makes you nicer, enhancing social interactions, value for community and close relationships.
We have numerous groups in town trying to improve access for active transportation and recreation. Let’s cheer them on and get out there.