Kids today are spending less time outdoors than previous generations. Recent research shows that kids today spend half the time playing outside that their parents did when they were children. The Seattle Children’s Research Institute found that children only engage in about 12 minutes of active outdoor play each day.
Yet a new study has found that time outdoors is important for a child’s development, not only right now, but well into their future. Researchers at the Aarhus University in Denmark discovered that kids who spend more time playing outside during their childhood are less likely to develop psychiatric disorders as adults.
The researchers noted a link between a lack of green space and a higher risk of developing a psychiatric disorder. After surveying more than 900,000 people, the researchers found that spending time in nature and having contact with the outdoors helped to improve a child’s chances of growing up to be mentally healthy.
Why is playing outside so important for kids? Not only does it offer opportunities for physical exercise, but it might also promote socialization as kids meet new friends and connect with their neighbors. It also offers the opportunity for unstructured play, which has been shown to be useful for kids. This type of play — games in which kids make up the rules and create their own fun (even if it’s as simple as jumping on a trampoline) — can even help a child’s brain development.
“Whether it’s rough-and-tumble play or two kids deciding to build a sand castle together, the kids themselves have to negotiate, well, what are we going to do in this game? What are the rules we are going to follow?” Sergio Pellis, a researcher at Canada’s University of Lethbridge, tells NPR. “The experience of play changes the connections of the neurons at the front end of your brain. And without play experience, those neurons aren’t changed.”
Pellis also notes that research shows that children who have adequate amounts of recess tend to perform better academically.
Playing outside is also good for your overall health: It gives kids the opportunity to soak in some sunshine and produce some vitamin D. While sun protection is important, experts say that you cannot get an adequate amount of vitamin D from your diet alone. “Sun protection messages arose in response to rapidly increasing rates of skin cancers, and they were an essential public-health message,” Robyn Lucas, an epidemiologist at Australian National University, tells USA Today. “But we now recognize that some sun exposure is important for health, at the very least, to maintain healthful vitamin D levels.”
There’s even more research that shows that time outdoors is vital to a person’s mental well-being. Previous research performed by the University of East Anglia found that spending time in green spaces outdoors helps reduce stress and the risk of premature death, high blood pressure and even type II diabetes.
“We hope that this research will inspire people to get outside more and feel the health benefits for themselves,” the study’s lead author Caoimhe Twohig-Bennett tells Science Daily.
Other research has shown that just 30 minutes of outdoor time per week can decrease symptoms of depression by 7%.
So, not only is time outdoors good for kids, parents can definitely reap the benefits of being outside more as well. So grab your sun hats and go explore the great outdoors!