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Want healthy kids? Send them outside
Sometimes, a dose of healthy outdoor activities may be just what the doctor ordered. - photo by Wendy Jessen
How much time do your kids spend outside playing? Is it daily, most days or rarely? (P.S. Organized sports don't always count because there's often a lot of "standing around" time rather than the exercise parents might expect, though it's a good start.)

It seems that a lot of kids today may spend more time inside due to parents' safety concerns for their children. Kids more often spend their free time indoors often playing video games or watching TV.

Sadly, we even hear of school children getting fewer recesses than in years prior, or having outside play time taken away as a punishment for poor behavior or not having schoolwork completed on time. Some schools don't even have windows or any other source of natural light in the classrooms.

With growing behavioral and health concerns, we ought to look at reversing our current lack of outside activities. According to the Atlantic, a growing number of healthcare professionals are trying to treat illnesses such as depression and Attention Deficit Disorder with more outside playtime; they even go so far as "prescribing" a specific park or nature venue to visit along with a set amount of time to spend there.

Being cooped up indoors is having adverse effects on our mental and physical health. According to a New York Post article, " ... spending time outside reduces stress for children and adults. Even having a view of nature from a hospital room has been shown to reduce recovery time. Other studies have found that spending time in nature increases ones attention span."

We need to get our kids less connected to gaming or watching TV, and reconnected to the outdoors. The benefits are great -- reduced stress, increased attention spans, more exercise, fresh air, learning more about nature and playing outside together.

What can we do outside?

  • Play in the backyard on the swing set, kick a soccer ball or play tag.
  • Visit a local park and play on the equipment, throw a frisbee or football, race each other from one side to the other or play follow-the-leader type games.
  • Hike together. If you have mountains or National Parks nearby, those are great places to visit for some outdoor recreation.
  • Ride bikes around your neighborhood; or some communities have bike trails you can use.
  • Take walks as a family in the evenings in your neighborhood or on community walking trails.
  • If available, your family may also enjoy such outdoor activities as snow skiing, water skiing, rappelling, rock climbing or horseback riding.
During inclement weather, you may need to find alternatives to outdoor activity. Some communities have recreation centers for swimming, racquetball, basketball, weight training or other things to help keep you active. You could also have a dance party in your family room, play a game of Twister, Simon Says or musical chairs.

Whatever your circumstance, encouraging your family to be more active and healthy, especially outdoors, can have lasting benefits and may even reduce or avert symptoms of depression, ADD, stress and obesity.
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