The news is full of stories of how overweight many people are becoming. People of all ages seem much too sedentary. We all need to be active and get outside more, but there is more to being outdoors than just getting away from the TV or computer.
Being in nature provides opportunities for social interaction in a healthy, fresh air environment. Sure, you can have fun with your family watching National Geographic on TV, but it’s not the same as interacting with other people in the great outdoors.
Playing outside is great for children. Playing in nature nurtures creativity, especially if it’s unstructured play. Children connect with the outdoors in different ways. Their experiences will help them grow, learn and develop.
Boost your physical, mental and social health
More and more medical evidence shows that spending time in nature improves health and well-being. It can prevent disease and help people recover from illness.
There are many reasons why being active outdoors helps people feel good. It could be the direct experience of real grass and trees, fresh air or the wind that we can’t get through a movie or on TV.
Being outdoors engages our senses with the sights, sounds and smells. We can feel the heat of the sun or the sting of the wind, rain or snow on our skin. There’s a sense of freedom outdoors. No wonder kids run out onto the playground at recess, freed from the classroom into the open air!
Connect with your community
Going for a walk or bike ride in your community fosters a sense of place. It’s different from driving down the street in your car because being outdoors allows you to see the flowers, the trees and the puddles from the last storm. Spending time outside your house or apartment helps you connect with your community. You will feel more ownership and belonging to the neighbourhood, which leads to an overall healthier community.
Going for walks with family or friends—or even on your own—helps everyone maintain a healthy body weight and avoid chronic problems like diabetes and heart disease. And somehow it’s easier and more fun to be active outdoors in nature than indoors on a treadmill or track!
What keeps us indoors?
Some communities have rules that don’t allow for fun things like playing street hockey, building tree forts or using bike and skateboard ramps. A lot of us did these activities when we were kids, without thinking of the hazards.
Developers and planners sometimes use up too much green space for malls, roadways or houses. They leave little green space for outdoor play. It’s all well and good to have convenient housing and shopping areas, but we also need places where we can be outside, be active and interact with nature.
Parents can come up with all kinds of reasons to keep their kids indoors:
- fear of strangers who may be around (stranger danger)
- lack of safe, clean places to play outdoors
- competition from TV and computers
- dangerous traffic
- homework and other activities
Make time for the outdoors
Safety concerns and tight schedules can result in parents driving their kids everywhere—to and from school, after school activities, sports events, classes, clubs, church and social events. While all of these activities are considered valuable, they usually take place indoors and are usually very organized.
Who knows? Maybe flying a kite, building a snow fort or playing tag outside would be even more valuable? Maybe organizing a walking school bus for the neighbourhood would get kids, parents, grandparents and neighbours walking together? It would be to everyone’s benefit. There are lots of ways to make time for being in nature.
Get out more
If we make an effort to spend more time outdoors, we will appreciate how important our parks, playgrounds, sidewalks, bicycle routes and walking trails are. Our kids will have memories of what they did in nature as they were growing up. Parents and grandparents will be glad they took the time to do things outdoors as a family. And everyone will be healthier because of it.
Quiz: Is Your Family Suffering from Nature Deficit Disorder?
Take this quiz from Canadian Living’s website to see how you’re doing and to find helpful tips.
Children, Nature and You—Online Resources
This webpage provides you with links to many different resources and other sources of information.