Children’s Health and The Great Outdoors
By: Koyejo Oyerinde MD, DrPH
As a pediatrician, I encourage families to enjoy the great outdoors during the spring and summer months, especially because opportunities for physical activity are more expensive and limited in the cold months of the year. Spending time in parks, hiking trails, playgrounds, and beaches can provide numerous health benefits for children, including increased physical activity, improved mental health, and enhanced social skills.
The great outdoors is an incredible resource that provides immense benefits for people of all ages, particularly children, adolescents, and young adults. Spending time in nature has numerous physical, mental, and emotional benefits, making it crucial for maintaining overall health and wellbeing.
We are blessed with several neighborhood playgrounds, parks, and hiking trails in Akron and North East Ohio. As a result, we can easily take our children out to foster a sense of wonder and curiosity about the world around them, allowing them to learn about the natural world and develop an appreciation for its beauty and complexity. Not to forget that being outdoors encourages them to be physically active, which helps to build their muscles, balance, coordination, and motor skills. Moreover, physically active kids tend to sleep better, more easily move their bowels, and are more likely to maintain a healthy weight. When their overall health is assured, they also learn better in school.
The isolation of the Covid-19 triggered lockdown period was particularly stressful for adolescents; spending time in nature can help to reduce stress and improve their mental health. For example, hiking provides a break from school and social life pressures and offers a peaceful, calming environment to relax and unwind. In addition, physical activity helps to reduce anxiety and depression and improve overall mood. Remember that teaming up with friends is an essential feature of adolescence; hiking, camping, rock climbing, or merely playing softball in the park help build self-confidence and a sense of teamwork and camaraderie.
In addition to the physical and mental health benefits, spending time in nature also helps to promote environmental stewardship and a sense of responsibility for the natural world. After all, young people will inherit the planet and its environmental challenges.
Safety first must be our motto as we venture outdoors!
Parks: Be sure to take along plenty of water and sunscreen, and avoid outdoor activities during the hottest part of the day or at least stay in the shade of trees. Bug repellants may also be helpful to keep bugs at bay but are essential for those who suffer severe allergic reactions to bug bites.
Drowning is the number one concern in water parks, beaches and swimming pools. We must supervise children closely when they play in water or swim. Be aware of any rip currents or other hazards, and avoid swimming in areas with no lifeguards on duty.
Hiking Trails: When children are hiking with you, ensure the trail matches their ability level, hydrate often, and take breaks as needed, watching out for fatigue and signs of heat stress.
Playgrounds: As for playgrounds, check that the equipment is age-appropriate and in good condition and that there are no hard surfaces in case children fall. We have to be on the watch for bullies and troublemaking older kids and adults.
Overall, the value of the great outdoors to the health and wellbeing of children, adolescents, and young adults cannot be overstated. Encouraging young people to spend time in nature should be a priority for parents, educators, and policymakers alike. With some preparation and vigilance, we can help our children enjoy a safe and fun spring and summer season.