Photo Credit: Mark Mann/Riser/Getty Images
Remember how much fun you had fooling around outside when you were a kid? Your kids should be doing the same thing. Sure, it’s fun but it also has tons of benefits, like lowering stress and boosting immunity. Make outside time a regular thing through organized sports (if your kids like them) or with frequent trips to your neighborhood park or playground. “Plan to do outdoor activities together,” says Jennifer Shu, M.D., medical editor of Healthyliving.org. You can make outdoor play part of fun family traditions, like hikes or even lawn games and hopscotch. Here’s how that outside time will make them healthier.
1. It Calms ADHD Symptoms
Kids with ADHD who play outside regularly have milder hyperactivity symptoms, according to studies at the University of Illinois. Get your kid outside for a 20 minute walk and he will be able to concentrate better.
2. It Reduces Obesity Risk
Childhood obesity rates have tripled in the past 30 years. But being outdoors can help: The more time your kid actively plays outside, the lower her odds are of being overweight. (An Australian study confirms this bit of common sense.). So limit computers and TV -- two hours tops, advises the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) -- and get them outdoors instead.
3. It Reduces Stress
Having access to nature helps kids cope better with stressful events, like being picked on or getting in trouble at school, according to research at Cornell University. Even if you don’t have a huge back yard, you can still create a little slice of nature. “Give kids a space of their own so they want to spend time out there,” says J’Nell Bryson, a landscape architect in Charlotte, North Carolina. “It doesn’t have to be expensive or elaborate.” For example, set up a bird bath and feeders and flowering shrubs to attract birds and butterflies. It'll be your family's own little nature preserve. And if you don’t have a yard, take regular walks to a local park.
4. It Improves Social Skills
Kids in undirected play learn how to work in groups, share, negotiate and resolve conflicts, according to the AAP. An idea to encourage more outdoor time: Incorporate activities such as a scavenger hunt into social events, like your kid’s next birthday party.
5. It Provides Vitamin D for Bone Health
A recent study in Pediatrics found that more than 6 million kids ages 1 to 11 are not getting enough vitamin D, which is essential to absorb calcium to build healthy bones. Vitamin D deficiency may also be a risk factor for developing other health issues later in life such as osteoporosis. Vitamin D is found in some foods, but the best way to get it is exposure to sunlight. To boost vitamin D production, kids should get 10 to 15 minutes of sunshine a few times a week, according to the NIH.
6. It Boosts the Immune System
Tell your kids to get their hands dirty -- it's good for them. Playing in the dirt can get messy, but early exposure to microbes in dirt may have lasting anti-inflammatory effects that protect against diseases in adulthood such as heart disease. Encourage kids to help plant a garden or fragrant herbs such as rosemary and lavender. You can create a little garden even without access to a yard: “Containers and pots are a good alternative if you live in an apartment or don’t have a lot of space in your yard,” says Bryson.