Time spent outdoors supports many aspects of children’s mental and physical health. Below are some of the research studies that make the case that nature is an important part of a child's (and adult's) health. Some of the areas of focus are on obesity prevention, muscle development, eye sight and depression. However, there are many other positive effects that children and families benefit from when they spend time playing, exploring and learning in nature.
Unstructured free play in the out-of-doors brings a host of benefits to children-from being smarter to more cooperative to healthier overall. This well-documented article by two physicians builds a strong case for the importance of unstructured free play in the out-of-doors for all age groups, and especially young children. While concerned about the "obesity epidemic" in young children, the authors say that the health benefits from outdoor play are only one aspect of the overall benefits. They suggest that the concept of "play" is more compelling and inviting to most adult caregivers, parents and guardians than "exercise." The authors cite cognitive benefits from play in nature, including creativity, problem-solving, focus and self-discipline. Social benefits include cooperation, flexibility, and self-awareness. Emotional benefits include stress reduction, reduced aggression and increased happiness. Children will be smarter, better able to get along with others, healthier and happier when they have regular opportunities for free and unstructured play in the out-of-doors. (Synthesis)
Burdette, Hillary L., M.D., M.S.; and Robert C. Whitaker, M.D, M.P.H. "Resurrecting Free Play in Young Children: Looking Beyond Fitness and Fatness to Attention, Affiliation and Affect." © 2005 American Medical Association.
The prevalence of obesity among children aged 6 to 11 more than doubled in the past 20 years, to 17 percent of children in this age group. The rate of clinically obese adolescents (aged 12-19) more than tripled, to 17.6 percent. The Centers for Disease Control concludes that a major missing ingredient is an hour per day of moderate physical activity.
Study: CDC's National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion. Division of Adolescent and School Health. Childhood Obesity. 20 Oct. 2008.
Many children in the U.S., especially minorities, need more Vitamin D. Spending time outside raises levels of Vitamin D, protecting children from bone problems and other health issues.
Study: American Academy of Pediatrics. “Many Children have suboptimal Vitamin D Levels,” Pediatrics. October 26, 2009.
Natural Settings and Cognitive Behavior: Children who are exposed to natural or outdoor settings receive benefits to their cognitive health, such as reduction of ADHD symptoms.
Study: Wells, N.M. (2000). At Home with Nature: Effects of “greenness” on children’s cognitive functioning. Environment and Behavior (32), 6, pp 775-795.
This study investigated the impact of nature experience on affect and cognition. We randomly assigned sixty participants to a 50-min walk in either a natural or an urban environment in and around Stanford, California. Before and after their walk, participants completed a series of psychological assessments of affective and cognitive functioning. Compared to the urban walk, the nature walk resulted in affective benefits (decreased anxiety, rumination, and negative affect, and preservation of positive affect) as well as cognitive benefits (increased working memory performance). This study extends previous research by demonstrating additional benefits of nature experience on affect and cognition through assessments of anxiety, rumination, and a complex measure of working memory (operation span task). These findings further our understanding of the influence of relatively brief nature experiences on affect and cognition, and help to lay the foundation for future research on the mechanisms underlying these effects.
The benefits of nature experience: Improved affect and cognition Gregory N. Bratmana,∗, Gretchen C. Dailyb, Benjamin J. Levyc, James J. Grossd
a Emmett Interdisciplinary Program in Environment and Resources, Stanford University, 473 Via Ortega, Suite 226, Stanford, CA 94305, United States
b Center for Conservation Biology (Department of Biology) and Woods Institute for the Environment, Jerry Yang & Akiko Yamazaki Environment & Energy Building – MC 4205, Stanford University, 473 Via Ortega, Stanford, CA 94305, United States
c Department of Psychology, College of Arts and Sciences, University of San Francisco, 2130 Fulton Street, San Francisco, CA 94117, United States
d Department of Psychology, Stanford University, 450 Serra Mall, Stanford, CA 94305, United States