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What Are the Benefits of Outdoor Activities for Children & Families?

by Mitch Reid, studioD

With a plethora of electronic distractions, such as online activities and video games, it's easy for both children and adults to lose touch with the great outdoors. However, outdoor activities, whether they encompass hiking, sports or simply sitting in the grass, can offer numerous health benefits. Learn the many ways outdoor adventures can help you and your family, particularly the children. With this information in mind, you might feel more motivated to escape the house.

Physical Benefits

Playing outdoors can help foster a love of physical activity in children, and it also pushes adults to engage physical exercises as well, suggests psychologist Debbie Glasser in her PsychologyToday.com article "Preschoolers Need More Outdoor Play with Parents.” This is especially true when families perform activities that require everyone to get involved, such as hiking or playing hide and seek. Games that involve teams come with an added benefit, as they encourage family bonding. Spending time in the sun wards off vitamin D deficiency, which brings problems such as osteoporosis, says WebMD in an article, "Are You Getting Enough Vitamin D?” However, too much time in the sun also presents a risk of skin cancer, warns WebMD, so err on the side of caution and don’t overdo it.

Cognitive Benefits

The great outdoors offers many psychological and behavioral benefits for both children and adults. For example, greener settings are associated with enhanced cognitive functions and an increase in self-discipline, according to Rick Nauert, senior news editor for PsychCentral.com, in his article "Going Green benefits Physical, Mental Health." In addition, those who spend less time outdoors appear more prone to disorders such as depression and anxiety. While heading outside with the family might not be an instant or foolproof cure for these disorders, it can serve as one healthy lifestyle choice that contributes to recovery or prevention.

Environmental Awareness

Children who spend their days inside are not very likely to feel a strong connection to the natural world when they are older, suggests environmental psychologist Nancy Wells in "Getting Back to the Great Outdoors,” an article published by the American Psychological Association. Future generations will dictate how much humanity cares for or neglects Mother Nature, so it's important that children learn to respect the environment. Foster a love of the outdoors in your children by planning hikes or visits to nature preserves. Older members of the family might even discover a newfound interest in nature.

How to Start

If your children and the rest of your family are glued to the screen, it might be difficult to start of habit of outdoor activities. However, you can accomplish this feat through gradual exposure, suggests Meg Houlihan, private practitioner, in "Getting Back to the Great Outdoors." Spend a short play session in the backyard for starters. Then, overtime, build up to longer outdoor activities, such as visiting city parks or enjoying picnics on the beach. An overnight camping trip can be an interesting trip once your family is ready for that level of activity.

About the Author

Mitch Reid has been a writer since 2006. He holds a fine arts degree in creative writing, but has a persistent interest in social psychology. He loves train travel, writing fiction, and leaping out of planes. His written work has appeared on sites such as Synonym.com and GlobalPost, and he has served as an editor for ebook publisher Crescent Moon Press, as well as academic literary journals.

Photo Credits

  • Mike Powell/Digital Vision/Getty Images