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The health benefits of outside play

Last Modified: January 26, 2024

Family Medicine, Sports & Exercise

kids play

This post was written by Ryan Grimm, MD, PPG – Pediatrics.

With the increased presence of screens in our lives, childhood has moved indoors. But making the effort to spend more time playing outside can be well worth it for both you and your child. Children are more likely to be physically active when outdoors, plus nature simulates their senses so play in nature is usually less structured than indoor play, which encourages creativity and problem-solving. Let’s take a closer look at the benefits of nature for children and share some ideas for how your family can spend more time outdoors.

The benefits of getting kids into nature

Playing outside helps children’s physical and mental health. The biggest physical benefit of playing in nature is the increased physical activity, which lowers the risk of obesity and improves children’s motor development. Additionally, the risk of myopia (nearsightedness) also decreases when children spend time outdoors.

There also appears to be strong evidence showing that contact with nature positively affects cognition as well as behavioral and mental health. Researchers agree that children who spend more time playing outdoors are happier, better at paying attention, and less anxious that children who spend more time indoors.

Aim to increase outside time

The health benefits of exposing kids to nature likely increase as children spend more time outdoors. Likewise, the detrimental effect of extended screen time in children is clear. Children are less likely to engage in screen time when outside experiencing the natural world. Ideally, children would spend three to four hours outside per day but do what is feasible, any time outside is better than none. Children likely benefit from shorter durations of outdoor time in nature as well.

Staying safe outdoors

To keep your kids safe and happy outdoors it’s important to dress appropriately to protect them from the elements. Protecting their skin from too much midday sunlight will lower the risk of sun damage, while layers and accessories can shield their skin from dangerous cold wind and temperatures. Early mornings or late evenings are the best times to spend outside in the summer due to the risk of mid-day heat-related illnesses and sunburns. Washing hands or using hand sanitizer during and after outdoor play is also a good idea.

Ideas for more outdoor play

For babies and toddlers, taking a walk through the woods (watch this great video) using a carrier or stroller is a great way to introduce them to nature. A blanket on soft grass is a great outdoor location to practice tummy time or enjoy a good book.

Allowing toddlers to play with mud, twigs and leaves is a great way for them to develop senses and motor skills. Inviting other children helps build social connections as well.

As children get older, outdoor games, hiking, scavenger hunts or nature collections like rocks or leaves, are all fun way to enjoy time in nature. Outdoor physical activities like soccer, frisbee or jumping rope are great ways to enjoy nature while also getting exercise.

If you’re looking for more guidance on the benefits of being outside and ways to support your child’s development, be sure to speak with your pediatrician or primary care provider. If you need help establishing care, contact the Parkview Access Center any time at 877-PPG-TODAY or 877-774-8632 for assistance.


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