Saturday, January 5, 2013

Kids, Nature and Physical Health

Intuitively, we all know that playing outside is healthy for kids.  It just feels right.  And scientific research has repeatedly demonstrated that there is a clear link between the amount of time children spend outdoors and their overall well-being.

It’s easy to understand how running across the lawn, climbing a tree, and swimming in the local water hole help our children maintain a healthy weight while building muscle and bone.  But there are more subtle physical benefits as well.  For example, children who spend significant time outdoors—playing amidst logs, rocks, and uneven ground—develop better coordination, balance and agility.  And outdoor activity in natural environments has even been linked to improvements in conditions like asthma and nearsightedness.

Unfortunately, many kids aren’t getting out there enough.  Pediatric health professionals believe that kids need at least 60 minutes of active play every day to stay healthy.  But the President's Council on Fitness, Sports and Nutrition finds that only one in three children are physically active every day—and many of those that are active are not getting a full 60 minutes of vigorous play. 

According to the World Health Organization, physical inactivity is a global health problem—one of the leading causes of death and disability around the globe.  Childhood obesity affects 17% or 12.5 million American Children, which isn’t surprising given that the average child now spends more than seven and a half hours a day sitting in front of a television or computer screen.  Two-thirds of American children can’t pass a basic physical, and 40% of boys and 70% of girls can’t manage more than a single pull-up.  A full 40% of American kids show early signs of heart and circulation problems.  Yikes!

But here at Mud On Your Feet we can help change that.  It’s easy.  It’s fun.

I want to share a few really great tools with you, tools that can help you get moving with the kids you love.  These tools will help you find nearby places to let your kids play, and they’ll help you come up with fun things to do while you’re there.

I’ve mentioned Discover the Forest before.  This site provides two great resources—Where to Go and What to Do.  Where to Go is a user-friendly search tool for finding fun places to play outside.  Just enter your zip code or search the map to find National Forests and Parks, State Forests and Parks, community parks, playgrounds, wildlife refuges, wilderness areas, and more.  What to Do is a treasure trove of fun activities, games, projects, and programs aimed at getting kids outside.

The National Wildlife Federation provides a tool called Nature Find, which is similar to Discover the Forest’s Where to Go site.  Just search the map to find great parks, trails and other nature sites.

Finally, KaBOOM! provides a Map of Play to help you find community playgrounds.  This is a great tool to find places for your kids to get their wiggles out when you’re travelling, and you might even find new playgrounds in your own neighborhood.

In the words of James Sallis, Ph.D., Program Director of the Active Living Research Program for the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, “Based on previous studies, we can definitely say that the best predictor of preschool children’s physical activity is simply being outdoors, and that an indoor, sedentary childhood is linked to mental health problems.”

So get outside, my friends.  Grab a kid you love.  Hold her hand.  Run.  Climb something.  Throw something.  Swim.  Get mud on your feet!

A BIG thank you to Mud On Your Feet readers that have shared photos of their kids in nature.  I love the pictures.  Please keep them coming!

J. S. Kapchinske is the author of Coyote Summer.