Architect Frank Lloyd Wright said, “I go to nature every day for inspiration in the day’s work.” And we would do well to heed his advice. Science is abound with research as to why spending time outside, and being active, is beneficial to both adults and to children. Let’s look at some of the most compelling reasons to break away from the computer and head into the backyard or to the nearest park or woods.
1) Sunlight can help prevent myopia in children.
Myopia or nearsightedness (caused by a elongation of the eyeball) has been on the rise in children in recent years. But researchers worldwide, such as Dr. Donald O. Muttii at The Ohio State University and Dr. Ian Morgan, who works at Australian National University and at Sun Yat-sen University in China, along with Dr. Mike Yang from the Canada’s Centre for Contact Lens Research, have found that lack of exposure to sunlight is a major cause of myopia in children. The researchers recommend two to three hours of sunlight (even not very bright sunlight is fine) per day to prevent children from developing myopia.
2) Being outside helps with mental health.
Researchers at Stanford University found that people who walk for 90 minutes in nature (as opposed to high-traffic urban settings) “showed decreased activity in a region of the brain associated with a key factor in depression” but little physiological differences than those who walked for 90 minutes in a city, according to Stanford news. And a 2015 study, also done at Stanford, found that those who walked in nature experienced less anxiety, rumination (focused attention on negative aspects of oneself), and negative affect, as well as more positive emotions, such as happiness.
3) Moderate to vigorous activity and time outdoors correlates to better academic performance.
A Finnish study of boys and girls in first through third grades found that moderate to vigorous activity—especially in boys—directly correlated to better reading fluency, reading comprehension and arithmetic skills. The children who lead more sedentary lives has poorer skills in both reading and math. Similar studies on older children achieved similar results.
4) Nature helps reduce stress levels.
David Strayer, a cognitive psychologist at the University of Utah, has studied nature’s calming affect on human stress levels. National Geographic reported him saying that, “Our brains aren’t tireless three-pound machines; they’re easily fatigued. When we slow down, stop the busywork, and take in beautiful natural surroundings, not only do we feel restored, but our mental performance improves too.” Studies conducted on young adults in Japan support Strayer’s statement.
5) Being in nature improves physical health.
Last year the University of Derby and the Wildlife Trusts launched a 30-day nature challenge to citizen of the United Kingdom. People who accepted the challenge had to interact with nature (go for a walk or a hike, feed birds, plant flowers, etc.). And the results showed statistically significant increases in reported feelings of happiness and healthiness, or as the researchers said, “Our findings suggest that connection to nature may provide people with resilience to meet the challenges of everyday life, while also facilitating exercise, social contact and a sense of purpose.” Spending time in nature has also been shown to reduce blood pressure and contribute to longer lifespans amongst senior citizens.
As John Muir proclaimed in Our National Parks: “Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop off like autumn leaves.” So get outside today.
Author’s Note: This article is part of The Whole Family Happiness Project series.