Fall is my favorite time of the year. The steamy days of summer begin to cool down to crisp autumn evenings. The leaves begin to burst into brilliant colors of red, yellow and orange. Let the beauty of the season with it’s fantastic weather entice you outside. Just go out and “play”. Isn’t that what we asked to do when we were kids? I remember my mom having to call me in (usually several times) for dinner or because it was getting dark out. Things have unfortunately changed.
In the last 20-30 years we have become an increasingly indoor society. We work indoors. We go to the movies or the mall for entertainment. We watch TV, surf the internet, shop online, connect with friends on Facebook or Twitter. We go to the gym to work out. Most of us don’t grow or raise our own food; we buy it in a store or restaurant. Now don’t get me wrong, I am certainly not up for raising and slaughtering my own poultry. I appreciate my local grocer. However, this shift inside has had a profound impact on our overall wellness as a nation and has changed the landscape of childhood. Instead of jump rope, hide and seek, forts and backyard ball our kids are playing Angry birds and Minecraft and X-Box.
The average American child spends an average of 44 hours per week (that’s more than six hours a day in front of a screen – TV, computer, phone). The amount of time spent in unstructured play outside is on average 30 minutes a day. Adults are even worse as they can average up to 8 hours/day of screen time counting work related tasks, TV, internet, GPS, smart phones, etc… As the amount of time we are all plugged in increases so does our waistline, stress, anxiety, depression and subsequently, prescriptions and medical bills. Did you know that the United States is the leading consumer in the world of pediatric prescriptions for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder?
Our lack of physical activity outside in nature comes at a cost. Childhood Obesity rates have doubled in the past 2 decades. Adult obesity has reached an epidemic status according to the CDC with one third of the U. S. adult population being obese (35.7%). There is an increase in Vitamin D deficiency in adults and children. Vitamin D is the “sunshine vitamin.” We consume it in some foods but mostly our bodies make it with the help of the sun through our skin. There are also increasing rates of type 2 diabetes, depression, anxiety and stress in general.
Is the lack of playing or being physically active outside in nature to blame for all of this? Not entirely but what we do know is that spending time outside is good for the body, mind and spirit. It reduces stress, speeds healing time and improves mood by reducing anxiety and depression. Specifically, short unprotected exposure to the sun raises your vitamin D level which improves immune function, strengthens bone and muscle, supports cardiac health and may reduce some types of cancer risk.
In one interesting study from the University of Pittsburg, hospitalized surgical patients with a window view of nature and exposure to natural light healed faster, required less pain medication and had shorter hospital stays than the group of patients who had the same surgery but no hospital room window. The stress reduction benefits of nature are shown in workplace studies where participants who take a midday walk outside for 30-40 minutes report increased job satisfaction, happiness, and demonstrate improved concentration on tasks. Also, if we are outside, we are likely to be moving more and sitting less. The more we move the more calories we burn, the more muscles we use, the stronger and the more fit we become. Regular physical activity has been proven to reduce the risk of heart disease, stroke, obesity, cancer, diabetes and hypertension.
So…go outside and PLAY or garden or meditate or walk or run or dance or whatever moves you! Invite your kids and husband or girlfriends to join you. Take advantage of the nice weather to create a new healthy habit for you and your family. Explore your world. It is a beautiful place!
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