Get up, get out, get healthy

Get up, get out, get healthy
Kindergarten students in Verona explore the outdoors as part of a science lesson

When it comes to our health, one valuable resource is being overlooked: the outdoors. Fresh air, sunshine and room to move all have a significant impact on our health. Now, research is showing that in our digital age we’re spending an increasingly small amount of time soaking in the benefits of spending time outside.

The benefits of spending time outside – even just sitting and watching the scenery – are vast. Research shows that benefits of time outside, particularly for children, include:

Increases fitness levels, which builds active healthy bodies while reducing the risk of obesity Raises levels of Vitamin D, which protects kids from future bone problems, heart disease, diabetes and other health issues Improves distance vision and lowers the chance of nearsightedness Effective in reducing ADHD symptoms and increasing concentration Reduction in stress levels Protects emotional development, including a decreased risk of anxiety and depression Enhances social interactions and strengthens the value of community and close relationships

St. Mary’s Hospitalist Dr. Alex Kendziorski wholeheartedly believes in taking advantage of the health benefits nature provides. He believes that making an effort to spend more time outside is vital to our health.

“Apart from the proven physical and mental health benefits, there are intangible advantages to spending time outdoors. In an increasingly isolating and compartmentalized digital age, individuals can become truly cut off from family, friends, society and nature itself in exchange for concentrated entertainment,” he says. “The links are severed and kids are less likely to understand their place in a natural system and get to know how their behaviors affect the environment.”

While it may sound daunting if you’re not already accustomed to spending lots of time outside, Dr. Kendziorski said spending more time outside doesn’t have to be a huge effort.

“In a busy schedule, small bite-sized activities are best to start with. Hiking in the arboretum or in one of our state parks is great for allowing the day’s stress to melt away, but adding an element of hunting keeps the kids involved,” he said. “For example a scavenger hunt works well if you know the landmarks or if you find ways to draw wildlife into your yard and observe their behavior.”

In fact, you don’t even need to move around much to reap many of these benefits. Try finding a great view to enjoy or even just heading out for a relaxing picnic lunch at the park. While a leisurely stroll or an afternoon appreciating the view doesn’t offer the same cardiovascular benefit a strenuous hike does, it still offers a great opportunity for stress relief.

Don’t forget that time spent outside isn’t just limited to daylight hours. Dr. Kendziorski’s family enjoys stargazing, which is becoming easier with reasonably priced telescopes and apps for smartphones and tablets like Skyview.

“For my son, I like to research what we will experience so there are plenty of fun facts at the ready when needed,” he said.

Another easy activity is to compare the scale of things with a landscape measuring wheel. You can compare the distances between cities, the solar system or the sizes of the largest animals on Earth. The most important part is simply being outside.

If you’re looking for unique ways to get outside, try planning an event or vacation around outdoor activities. Instead of planning a birthday party or family gathering for an indoor attraction, check out state and local parks as a low-cost option. For your next vacation, check out a national park or area that offers interesting activities like cave exploration or wildlife reserves for hiking and observing animals in the wild.

“So much of our time is spent in office cubicles under the sickly glow of fluorescent lighting,” said Dr. Kendziorski. “Spending time outdoors has become a need rather than a luxury.”

These are just some of the benefits of spending time outside. For more information on the benefits of spending time outside, check out our online section Time for Kids: Explore the Outdoors.

Originally published by Dean