At the end of the day, there is nothing more important than our kids’ health. From our perspective, children cannot enjoy good health without an active lifestyle that incorporates regular, physical activity as well as time spent in nature. And, we can only influence how they use their time for a short part of their lives. If we really want to ensure their wellness for the long haul, we need to get our kids hooked on being active outdoors.
Two bits of good news: little kids naturally want to be physically active, and they love to be outdoors. So, the challenge we face is how to make active time outdoors a priority in our lives and how to teach our kids to do the same. Understandably, this is increasingly challenging in a culture that imposes so many schedules and structures around kids time. And it is all the more important when kids spend the majority of their waking hours indoors, staring at a screen, or living in communities in which the green spaces are fewer and more restricted than ever before.
Research in the past 25 years has confirmed a link between physical activity that takes place outdoors and positive health outcomes. Also, it has drawn an association between an indoor, sedentary lifestyle and negative health consequences. For young children, time to play, ramble and explore outdoors leads to the most extensive and lasting benefits—more than adult-led, structured outdoor activities like organized sports.
Perhaps the two most common issues in children’s health to which a lack of outdoor, physical activity contribute are childhood obesity and ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder [ADHD]). Beyond the millions of overweight children, obesity rates have doubled for children (ages 6-11) and tripled for adolescents (ages 12-19) in just two decades. The number of children diagnosed with and medicated for ADHD continues to rise, and ADHD results in significant impairment to children socially and academically.
Studies have shown that lifestyles learned as children are much more likely to stay with a person into adulthood. For example, 70% of teens who are obese grow up to be obese adults. On the flip side, if physical activities and time spent outdoors are a family priority, they will provide children and parents with a strong foundation for a lifetime of health.