11 Reasons Why Being Outside is Important
We’re spending more time inside than ever before. Computers, tablets, cell phones, and video games hog our attention and keep us from getting into nature. That’s especially bad for our children.
Playing outside encourages kid’s creativity, builds their attention spans, and increases their desire to explore. The book Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder by Richard Louv outlines this growing pattern. Louv coined the term nature-deficit disorder to explain what happens when kids spend too much time indoors.
Recent findings show children ages 8-18 spend more than six hours each day with electronic media. A study published in 2002 found that 8-year-old children could better identify Pokémon characters than plants or animals in their neighborhoods. As children spend less time outside, unhealthy habits begin to form.
Children who spend little time outside are at risk for developing chronic health problems. Diabetes, hypertension, obesity, and depression are common companions of a sedentary indoor lifestyle. Help your family learn healthy habits and encourage playing outside over electronic devices.
1. Sunshine. Yes, sun exposure — especially sunburns — can increase the risk of skin cancer. But it turns out that our bodies need sun. We need sun exposure to make vitamin D, a vitamin that plays a crucial role in many body processes, from bone development to our immune system. Sun exposure also plays a role our immune system in other ways, as well as in healthy sleep — and in our mood. Our bodies work best when they get some sunshine every day.
2. Exercise. Children should be active for an hour every day, and getting outside to play is one way to be sure that happens. They can certainly exercise indoors, but sending them outdoors — especially with something like a ball or a bike — encourages active play, which is really the best exercise for children.
3. Executive function. These are the skills that help us plan, prioritize, troubleshoot, negotiate, and multitask; they are crucial for our success. Creativity falls in here, too, and using our imagination to problem-solve and entertain ourselves. These are skills that must be learned and practiced — and to do this, children need unstructured time. They need time alone and with other children, and to be allowed (perhaps forced) to make up their own games, figure things out, and amuse themselves. Being outside gives them opportunities to practice these important life skills.
5. Socialization. Children need to learn how to work together. They need to learn to make friends, how to share and cooperate, how to treat other people. If they only interact in very structured settings, such as school or sports teams, they won’t — they can’t — learn everything they need to know.
6. Appreciation of nature. So much of our world is changing, and not for the better. If a child grows up never walking in the woods, digging in soil, seeing animals in their habitat, climbing a mountain, playing in a stream, or staring at the endless horizon of an ocean, they may never really understand what there is to be lost. The future of our planet depends on our children; they need to learn to appreciate it.
7. It promotes creativity and imagination. This unstructured style of play also allows kids to interact meaningfully with their surroundings. They can think more freely, design their own activities, and approach the world in inventive ways.
8. It provides different stimulation. Nature may seem less stimulating than a violent video game, but in reality, it activates more senses—you can see, hear, smell, and touch outdoor environments. “As the young spend less and less of their lives in natural surroundings, their senses narrow,” Louv warns, “and this reduces the richness of human experience.
9. It reduces stress and fatigue. According to the Attention Restoration Theory, urban environments require what’s called directed attention, which forces us to ignore distractions and exhausts our brains. In natural environments, we practice an effortless type of attention known as soft fascination that creates feelings of pleasure, not fatigue.
10 .Increase attention spans.
Children who play outdoors regularly are more curious, self-directed and likely to stay with a task longer. Children who spend most of their time indoors with little exposure to activities requiring their own initiation and follow-through show less ability to initiate or participate in new activities. In fact, studies of children diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) found that children with ADHD who spent significant time outdoors exhibited fewer symptoms.
11. Grow in happiness and immunity.
Outdoor light stimulates the pineal gland. This part of the brain is vital to keeping our immune system strong and making us feel happier. Spending time in nature is also associated with improving mood and happiness. An added bonus is that children who identify with nature are more likely to become adults who appreciate nature and want to protect the environment.