As our children’s hobbies move to the computer screen, the chances of willingly embracing the outdoors reduce significantly. We want to promote and engage in a healthier lifestyle for them, but often there are daily obstacles that get in the way of the benefits of nature. A report from the Institute for European Environmental Policy (IEEP) on how green space affects our health points out, access to green space means more quality time outside, and more benefits of nature. Indicating, that if going outside is fun and easy more people would see a lot of advantages.
Inaccessible Green Space Makes it Hard to Get The Benefits of Nature
The IEEP looks at factors that prevent the elderly and someone with a disability from getting the benefits of nature, providing insight into why children might also not get enough of green space.
First of all, forests and parks are hard to navigate with wheelchairs and below average balance. This means enduring the obstacles of their nearest park or traveling to a further, more accessible one. Indicating, why investing in green space infrastructure is important so we can all get the benefits of nature.
Furthermore, the report found that ethnic minorities who are often less wealthy go further to visit green spaces because poorer neighborhoods don’t usually have them. Their pursuit for nature becomes a chore.
Some of the benefits they miss out on are:
- Better self-perceived health
- Fewer anti-depressants are distributed in these areas
- Happier, and less mental distress
- Middle-aged men saw 16% lower risk of dying
The IEEP also found that the infrequent use of green space hits our children hard. Those born closer to green space:
- Experienced fewer allergies
- Had reduced behavioral issues, like hyperactivity, emotional issues, and problems with relationships
- Treated the environment with more respect
- Felt part of a community
Therefore, just the family you’re born into can already make getting a whiff of the outdoors harder. We must focus on removing obstacles for the poor and the elderly, but also for our children to make the outdoors a part of their lifestyle.
The challenge is providing our kids with green opportunities while making it more fun than their addictive digital alternatives. It is vital to do this when they are children as one study found that creating an interest in the outdoors earlier means a 20% better chance of bringing that attitude into adulthood.[i]
The Risk of Not Getting Enough Outdoors and The Benefits of Nature
Our children need about an hour of activity a day, but they are rarely getting close to that, and there are some health risks in not doing so.[ii]
Do Kids Get Enough Outdoors Time?
A report found that three-quarters of UK children spend less time outside than inmates.[iii] This is no surprise when we have set up a society where children aren’t encouraged to go outside and are handed iPads as soon as they have fingers long enough. This is evident as children spend about 7 hours living in a digital world rather than a real one.
In comparison to adults when they were kids, children have been getting half as much outdoors as their parents and a third as much as their grandparents.[iv]
Risks of Staying Inside All Day VS. Benefits of Being Outside
This epidemic of staying indoors poses huge risks of [vii]
- Obesity, which has doubled in the last 20 years
- Nearsightedness, by not looking further than 10 feet
- Heart disease
- More likely to stay inside throughout their life
- More vitamin D, reducing bone problems, heart disease, and diabetes
- Better social interactions
- Relieves symptoms of ADHD and hyperactivity
- Less stress
- Better short term memory
- More mental energy
- Reduced inflammation
- Better thinking and creativity
- Possible anti-cancer effects
- Boosting the immune system
- Reduced risk of early death
- Better grades
To understand more benefits of the outdoors, watch this Ted Talk:
How to Get Our Children Outdoors
As parents, you might be wondering how to promote going outside, how to make it fun, and how to make it sustainable.
1. Have no fear
Let them get scrapes and bruises; let them explore. Part of the fun is being free, and once you start to place restrictions, they will start feeling more free in their video games.
2. Demand Green Space
Depending on where you live, this might be difficult, but encourage your town and city to create green space, and fight for it if your municipality decides they want to replace your green space with a mall.
3. Restrictions on Technology
While you want to make the outdoors fun and you don’t want to force them into being active against their will. Our children need a little push to see how enjoyable being outside is.
4. Bring Digital Outside
Can’t beat them, join them. The viral game, Pokemon GO was notorious for getting people to walk around to see new parts of their neighborhood. Either showing them games like this, or getting them something like a FitBit will make going outside a game, or at least make the outdoors familiar.
5. Encourage Sports, Activities, and Hobbies
Hobbies and sports like soccer, gardening, and swimming are fun ways to get them outside for an hour on a consistent basis.
6. Participate with Them
Your kids might still be at that age where they like to hang out with you. If this is the case, do the activity with them, because you should get outdoors just as much as they do. Kick the ball with them, teach them how to garden, or take a walk with the whole family, getting everyone outside, and building stronger connections.
Making green space accessible and fun is not only important for marginalized groups, but it’s essential for our kids. We need to promote outdoor play to get the benefits of nature for their early lives and into adulthood.