Close your eyes and focus on breathing. Now picture yourself in a place where you are completely relaxed.
For many of us, our minds take us to an outdoor setting in a place with natural beauty and sounds. Perhaps it’s near a mountain with a majestic view, or on a beach with water sounds and nearby birds. We as humans are wired to spend time outdoors. However, children in the United States are spending much less time outdoors today than their parents and grandparents did. The lack of nature contact impacts both body and brain, affecting how we feel physically as well as our attentiveness and emotional well being. Study after study show that kids with more nature experiences grow up healthier.
Spending time outside increases our physical activity, which has corresponding positive benefits for our health. One study found that a part of our brain that plays key role in depression is less active when participants spent time walking in an outdoor natural setting.
Benefits of time spent in nature extend beyond each of us individually and are seen in schools and neighborhoods when green space is created and utilized. School programs that structure specific outdoor time have shown to increase attentiveness and improve social interactions among students, leading to better academic performance and happier kids.
So what is it that prevents us from spending more time outside? There are many potential barriers to get in the way, and they vary between families and neighborhoods. Barriers can be related to space (distance, safety), time (work, school, other responsibilities) and distractions (screens, social media). We’ll take a closer a look at common barriers in a future post and offer some insights on how to overcome them. In the meantime, particularly during the sometimes hectic, stressful holiday season, think of ways to get yourself and your family outside more, set an achievable goal, and then do it.
Written for Project Nature by Julian Ayer, MD, FAAP
Julian Ayer, MD, FAAP, is on staff at Pediatrics Northwest in his hometown of Tacoma. He joined the Board of Directors of BestStart Washington in 2012. An active member of the Board of the Washington Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, Dr. Ayer earned his bachelor’s degree at Gonzaga University in Spokane and his MD at Rush Medical College in Chicago. He completed his pediatric residency at the University of Wisconsin. His community service includes volunteering at the Trinity Neighborhood Health Clinic serving underserved residents of Tacoma, and he has participated on an advisory committee to support Bridges, a family grief support center for local children. Dr. Ayer also co-founded the University of Wisconsin Chapter of PRIDE (Pediatricians Recognizing Individuals Demonstrating Excellence) to recognize outstanding youth in area schools. Read Dr. Ayer’s CV.