My son asked me last weekend, as we were all helping to put the dock in the lake up at the family cabin, “Mom, why does Brook [our dog], love being at the cabin so much?” I answered, “Well, I imagine she loves the cabin for many of the same reasons we love being here. The extended family comes up to visit [including all of the pups], everyone is always happy and relaxed, we spend our evenings fishing, roasting marshmallows over the fire, and playing games on the deck, we share great food, and we take long walks down the dirt road and through the woods.” Do you notice a common denominator here? Yes, most of our time is spent outside. When I think about our typical day at the cabin, we usually spend no more than two hours inside. An hour for breakfast and an hour or so before bed to watch the news and have a snack. The rest of the day we play outside, we talk outside, we eat outside, and we relax outside. Happiness! This is what we feel at the cabin. This is what we feel when we are outside.
Unfortunately, many people aren’t getting outside these days. In fact, according the National Wildlife Federation, children are spending half as much time outdoors as they did 20 years ago. Today, children go from school to after-school activities or homework and adults go from working all day to taking care of their house/children. Increasing screen time takes away from potential outdoor time, limited green spaces in cities and suburbs can make it difficult for people to find space to enjoy the outdoors, and people are not making outdoor-time a priority in their busy lives. In an astounding new (2016) study by Persil, more than 12,000 parents of 5 to 12-year old children in 10 countries around the world (US, Brazil, China, India, Indonesia, Portugal, South Africa, Turkey, UK, US, and Vietnam) were surveyed and researchers found that children, on average, spend an hour or less of their day outside. Prisoners are allowed two hours of outdoor time each day. Our children are spending less time outside than prisoners! Persil put together an impactful video interviewing inmates about their feelings toward their outdoor time. Then, the video captured the inmates’ reactions when the interviewer told them that children around the world are getting an hour of outdoor time per day. See the two-minute video here: Free the Kids
Limited outdoor time can have major consequences on not only physical health, but mental and emotional health as well. According to the Centers For Disease Control And Prevention (CDC), one in three adults and one in six children have obesity. Leading a sedentary lifestyle (too many hours sitting in school or daycare centers, no unstructured play time, too much screen time on TV, computers, and smartphones, etc.) is one of the main causes of obesity. Also, the CDC reports that the percentage of children with an ADHD diagnosis has continued to increase from 7.8% in 2003 to 9.5% in 2007 and to 11.0% in 2011. Similarly, a study by Mantejano et al. found that ADHD diagnoses in adults increased more than three-fold between 2002 and 2007. Is it a coincidence that as human beings decrease the time they spend outside, physical and mental illnesses increase? Research shows that many illnesses such as obesity and ADHD can be controlled and sometimes eradicated by one simple prescription, a free prescription: nature.
Research shows that being outside:
- Boosts overall health5, 6, 10, 14
- Decreases anxiety and depression8
- Increases cognitive functioning4, 5
- Increases creativity5
- Increases happiness5
- Increases self-awareness5
- Increases self-esteem3, 5, 13
- Increases the ability to focus, even in children with ADHD4, 5, 9,
- Increases energy levels11
- Increases physical activity levels and decreases obesity levels5
- Improves mood1, 2, 3, 14
- Improves sleep12
- Lowers blood pressure levels10
- Is necessary for brain development7
- Reduces stress1, 2, 3, 5, 14
- Reduces aggression5, 14
Back to the cabin. The day the family went up to put the dock in the lake, my husband, my mother, my children, my nephew, Brook (our dog), and I went on a two-hour walk down the dirt road and through the woods. A two-hour walk that would normally take 20 minutes had we continued walking on the road. We collected Lake Superior agates on the dirt road, and we identified spring wild flowers poking up through the crispy leaves that had fallen last fall on the forest floor. My son found a fungi we had never observed before called Devil’s Urn (a cup-shaped black fungi that is surprisingly edible), the whole family found groves of ramps (a wild onion), and collected the leaves to bring home to prepare with dinner. The kids explored the hills and valleys throughout the woods, finding treasures like glass bottles, old flower pots, and frogs in shallow, muddy puddles. Meanwhile, the adults found an old log to sit on to discuss how wonderful it is to see the kids lost in nature. The kids were running, hopping, jumping, climbing, learning, exploring, and chatting away, oblivious to the fact that we were watching them with appreciation. Happiness all around.
Make the time to get outside and get into nature. Your body and mind will thank you. Visit Get Outside often for new ideas on how to get outside and get into nature!
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- Aspinall, P., Mavros, P., Coyne, R., Roe, J. (2012). The urban brain: analyzing outdoor physical activity with mobile EEG. British Journal of Sports Medicine.
- Barton, J., Pretty, J. (2010). What is the Best Dose of Nature and Green Exercise for Improving Mental Health? A Multi-Study Analysis. Environmental Science and Technology. 44: 3947-3955.
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- Children and Nature Network. (2012). Health Benefits to Children from contact with the Outdoor & Nature. 46 pages.
- Donovan, G. Butry, D. Michael, Y., Prestemon, J., Liebhold,A., Gatziolis, D., Mao, M. (2013). The Relationship Between Trees and Human Health: Evidence from the Spread of the EAB. American Journal of Preventive Medicine. 44(2):139-45.
- Hamilton, J. (2014). Scientists say child’s play helps build a better brain. Retrieved from http://www.npr.org/sections/ed/2014/08/06/336361277/scientists-say-childs-play-helps-build-a-better-brain.
- Jordan, R. (2015) Standford researchers find mental health prescription: Nature. Retrieved from http://news.stanford.edu/2015/06/30/hiking-mental-health-063015/.
- Kuo, F. E., Taylor, A. F. (2004). A Potential Natural Treatment for Attention-Deficit /Hyperactivity Disorder: Evidence From a National Study. American Journal of Public Health. 94(9): 1580-1586.
- Mao G.X., Cao, Y.B., Lan, X.G., He, Z.H., Chen, Z.M., Wang, Y.Z., Hu, X.L., Lv, Y.D., Wang, G.F., Yan, J. (2012). Therapeutic effect of forest bathing on human hypertension in the elderly. Journal of Cardiology. 60:495-502. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0914508712001852.
- Ryan, R.M., Weinstein, N., Bernstein, J., Brown, K.W., Mistretta, L., Gagne, M. (2010). Vitalizing effects of being outdoors and in nature. Journal of Environmental Psychology. 30(2): 159-168.
Stothard, Ellen R. et al. (2017). Circadian Entrainment to the Natural Light-Dark Cycle across Seasons and the Weekend. Current Biology. 27(4): 508 – 513. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.cub.2016.12.041
- Taylor, A. F., Kuo, F. E. (2009). Children with attention deficits concentrate better after a walk in the park. Journal of Attention Disorders. 12(5): 402-409. http://jad.sagepub.com/content/12/5/402.
- Thompson, C. W., Roe, J., Aspinall, P., Mitchell, R., Clow, A., Miller, D. (2012) More green space is linked to less stress in deprived communities: Evidence from salivary cortisol patterns. Landscape and Urban Planning. 105(3): 221-229. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0169204611003665.