Some Days are Better Spent Outdoors
In a society that is becoming increasingly acclimated to digital entertainment, accessible multimedia, and all things convenient, the attention of children and parents alike seem to be glued being indoors. While these aspects of life have their place and purpose, nothing comes in comparison to the wonder and beauty of being outdoors has to offer. The joys of being surrounded by nature and taking in scenery have inspired generations of poets and artists as well as spurring on the creation of protected natural areas and the national park system. Taking time to either simply sit and relax in a natural setting or to explore trails near majestic views has long been a past time for individuals seeking solitude and a mental recharge. Even if it can be a challenge to find the time out of your busy schedule, the benefits of prioritizing getting outdoors as a family will be well worth it.
Some families may find experiencing nature harder than others if they are enclosed by dense urban settings. However even in some of the largest cities out there, great efforts are made to maintain natural areas of refuge for people to escape to and be surrounded by trees, ponds, or grass fields. Central Park in New York City is a prime example of city planners recognizing the great importance of being outdoors, even at the expense of a large area that could have been used for further urban development.
If making it to a campground or scenic hike means hours of driving for you, no need to worry. You and your family can still experience a lot of the positive effects of being outdoors simply by making routine outings to parks that are likely in or near your neighborhood. To experience all that nature has to offer however, you’ll want to plan ahead to make time for day trips or several nights spent where the noise of the city is far behind you.
Why Starting at a Young Age is Important
The benefits of being in nature are for parents and children alike, although there is a distinct advantage of children experiencing nature at a young age. Children who grow up without a desire for being outdoors typically have not had the proper education or exposure to it. Currently, children are generally spending less time than ever outdoors and more time than ever glued to electronic devices and screens indoors. There are some fears parents have about the dangers of their kids being outside, such as the fear of disease or injury, even though there’s evidence that contradicts these fears.
This has led to the trend of parents leaning on “safer” activities inside the home, not even bothering to step in the backyard. This trend has grown so much to the point that the term “nature deficit disorder” has officially been coined. Some studies have shown the average child only spends a few minutes outdoors per day, compared with the 7 hours that are spent per day in front of s screen.
It’s clear that children need structure and encouragement on the end of their parents to make the time for outdoor fun. By contrast, children who regularly explore nature with their families are far more likely to keep these habits when they grow up. By instilling a love of the outdoors in your children early on, you are setting them up for a lifestyle that will serve them well both developmentally during childhood, and in the future as adults.
Physical Benefits of Spending Time Outdoors
When children spend time exploring the outdoors with their families, this provides an excellent opportunity for productive, healthy physical activity. Taking hikes to see gorgeous views is a great way to achieve cardiovascular exercise and build heart health. The stimulating nature of taking in natural scenery also tends to make physical activity seem like less of a chore and brings significantly more enjoyment out of exercise compared to a workout done in a gym.
If your children are able to associate physical activity with this sort of enjoyment early on, they are also more likely to continue these healthy habits late in life. If the activities spent outside are less rigorous, such as a fishing trip or a relaxing picnic, there are still plenty of health benefits to be gained. Spending time outside increases the exposure to blue light naturally emitted during the daytime. This helps regulate your body’s natural sleep rhythm and allows for better sleep at night, and increased energy and alertness during the day.
Benefits to Mental Health
A lot of the physical benefits of being outside directly translated to mental health improvements. Studies have long shown that increased physical activity leads to improved mood and reduced stress levels. These same benefits also result from the more regular sleep patterns experienced from spending more time outdoors. A healthy amount of exposure to sunlight is responsible for the natural production of vitamin D. Vitamin D is considered one of the most commonly deficient minerals in people in today’s society. It is one of the crucial minerals our bodies need for the regulation of serotonin levels in the brain, the neurotransmitter responsible for stabilizing mood. Exposure to nature also helps fight stress in other ways as well.
Urban environments tend to be ridden with all sorts of traffic and noise from different people tending to their own endeavors. This constant movement, along with the hyperfocus on goals and obligations, creates an environment where direct attention is needed, forcing our minds to ignore distractions. Being in nature however frees the mind of this chaos, allowing for distractions to be welcomed. This reduces mental fatigue, resulting in lower stress levels. Being outdoors and taking in the sights has been shown to stimulate deeper and more imaginative thought in children, resulting in overall increased intelligence and creativity. The increased stimulation, as a result of all the sights, sounds, smells, and feelings of being outside, help the cognitive functioning and processing of the senses to sharpen, helping your child to experience an overall deeper richness to life.
The wild and unstructured nature of being outdoors puts less restrictions on the minds of children, allowing them to think in more inventive ways and build a stronger sense of self-confidence. Exploring nature, with the exposure to beauty of landscapes and sights of wildlife, also tends to bring an increased sense of responsibility and consequential thinking. When you are out with your children on a hike or by a lake, be sure to explain the importance of leaving nature how you found it and respecting wildlife. These lessons help instill a sense of responsibility for their actions.
A Perfect Setting For Family Bonding
All the mental and physical health benefits of being outdoors are fantastic on their own, but they are far better when shared. The act of being in nature with the whole family allows for growing closer as a family. Whether the plan is to get on your feet and move, or simply take time away to relax, there will be plenty of relational benefits gained out of the experience.
Going on a hike to an amazing view, or riding bikes together in a beautiful setting creates a shared experience that breaks down relational barriers and creates deeper bonds together. During time sitting around a campfire, or eating lunch at the top of a finished hike, you will also likely find that conversations end up being deeper and more meaningful without the distractions of life back at home. At the end of if all your family will have made plenty of new memories, with hopefully a fair share of funny stories, to reminisce on together in the future.
Today’s world is becoming more fast-paced and chaotic than ever. With so many distractions and responsibilities the modern age seems to bombard us with every day, it can be easy to forget about the importance of getting outside on a regular basis. With all there is to gain from being outside however, the time to start making every effort to make that happen is now.
Take an honest look at your family’s schedule and make sure there is plenty of outdoor time included. Write it down on the calendar and consider scratching other items off if you have to. If you find your children, or yourself, glued to screen when you could easily be taking a walk outside, take the initiative to switch things up right there in the moment and take advantage of what being outdoors has to offer.