Baltimore County Now
Intern, Baltimore County Communications Office
As I continue to make the transition into adulthood, I often find myself taking trips down memory lane. I recall racing home from school and flying through my homework so that I could get outside to a game of touch football or pick-up basketball with the other neighborhood kids. Before we knew it the sun would vanish and we’d all be heading in, ready to do it all over again the next day. Those were the good days, as many older adults might say.
But it seems as though today’s youth has a different idea of what makes a day good. Hours upon hours of fast-moving images on a screen with accompanying sound effects have replaced carefree outdoor play. It’s hard to believe that the average American child today spends only four to seven minutes per day in unstructured outdoor play, according to the National Wildlife Federation and their “Be Out There” initiative. While it may appear to be cool to spend hundreds of dollars on and obsess over the latest gadgets, the real expense is our nation’s declining health.
According to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, more than a third of children and adolescents were overweight or obese in 2012. The fact is, the lack of outdoor physical activity decreases physical fitness levels, increases the frequency of ADHD, and increases stress levels in children. The National Wildlife Federation notes some surprising benefits to outdoor play which include:
· Healthier bodies with increased levels of Vitamin D, which helps to fight off serious health issues such as heart disease and diabetes.
· Improved distance vision and reduced chance of nearsightedness.
· Improved performance on standardized tests and critical thinking skills.
· Stress levels have been shown to drop within minutes of “green time,” and free play with others helps with emotional development and lessens the chances of children developing symptoms of anxiety and depression.
If you ask me, it sounds like a pretty simple solution to such a growing problem. Encouraging kids to go out and play in the fresh air creates fun childhood memories while helping to build the body, spirit and mind.