OT Mom says, “Let’s go outside!”
Dr. Dad says, “Let’s go outside!”
Finally, something we can agree on. When it comes to spending time outdoors, we are completely on the same page. Not only do we both enjoy it, we know there are countless benefits to outdoor time.
There is a growing base of evidence that identifies both physical and mental health benefits to spending time outdoors and in natural settings.
In a 2015 Environmental Health Perspectives article, Nate Seltenrich summarizes some of the benefits, “… research has shown that outdoor exercise in nature can enhance emotional well-being and amplify the benefits of physical exercise. And for kids in particular, being in or near green spaces has been found to be associated with better test scores, improved self-discipline and cognition, and reduced behavioral problems and symptoms of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).” You can find the original article, including the sources from the research here.
There’s even a movement for health professionals to prescribe time outdoors. Such “park prescription” programs aim to promote knowledge and information about the benefits of spending time in nature and community green spaces with the overall goal for increased individual and community health. The National ParkRx Initiative is a great resource with more information about the health benefits that parks and green spaces can offer as well as resources for agencies that want to or currently participate in a park prescription programs.
The best part about spending time in nature is it’s generally FREE. And whether it’s spending time in your backyard, a nature preserve, an urban green space, or any other park, there’s likely going to be benefits.
Now that you know some of the numerous mental and physical health benefits of nature, here’s some fun ideas to try if you don’t quite know what to do with your kids (or yourself) once you’re out enjoying the fresh air.
Walk, Jog, or Run
Try a stroll on a beach, a jog through the woods, or a race across a park, depending on your fitness level, abilities, and interests. My kids love playing simple, classic games like “chase” and tag. It gets us all moving and the fresh air is reinvigorating.
While you’re at it, don’t be afraid to splash in some puddles, jump in a pile of leaves, or lay down in the snow to make a snow angel, depending on the season.
Look for Something
I have fond memories of collecting rocks as a child and my kids just started to show interest in it too. However, currently they prefer to look for worms. Adults may enjoy bird or butterfly watching. Every spring our family looks for edible mushrooms in the woods (I only suggest this if you are certain you know which are edible as many are poisonous and even deadly). Kids and adults alike may enjoy looking for things like wild blueberries, or collecting colorful leaves in the fall.
You can even try a scavenger hunt. Here’s an example of a general one:
Please feel free to download the pdf if you’d like to give it a try: Nature Scavenger Hunt
Create Something (out of nature or for nature)
Draw in the dirt, build a sand castle, stack up some rocks, or plant a garden. An activity I love is making bird feeders with my kids and putting them out in the trees in our yard.
Use Some Equipment
Ride a bike, kick a ball, head down a slide, or go kayaking. While a lot of equipment may cost money, you can keep it simple and utilize public parks with things like swings and slides for your kids or invest in a football to play catch.
We invested in a bean bag toss (corn hole) game that even gets the adults wanting to play outside.
Visit Some Animals
Many communities have outdoor green spaces that have an abundance of wildlife. Ideas would include checking your area for places like fish hatcheries, and nature preserves. You can keep an eye out for free events such as free fishing days for kids and farm days/petting zoos.
Just Enjoy It
Look around and take all the beauty in. Look at the clouds and day dream. Stop and smell the flowers.
As a mom, I’m so happy to have read much of the research to motivate me to get my kids outside as much as possible. As a healthcare worker, I am excited to spread some knowledge and try to incorporate more nature into practice as well.
Still, not quite motivated to head outside? Maybe getting outside will give you the mental and physical energy you’re looking for. In yet another study, spending time in nature was found to be correlated with improvements vitality. So now that you’ve read this, turn off your device and (weather permitting) head outside.
*Disclaimer: The information presented in the blog is intended for information purposes only. Please consult your physician with any medical concerns and/or for medical advice. The information presented is not intended to be used in place of individualized therapy services, please contact your health care team for skilled therapy if you think it is necessary. Please supervise your children (or friends, spouses, etc) if you decide to try any of the activities or ideas presented as the author or this blog does not claim liability for possible injury or negative consequences related to the activities and ideas presented here. Please use common sense and safety when engaging in outdoor activities (for example check weather conditions, supervise children, and take precautions such as sunscreen, etc).
n.a (2016) About the Initiative. ParkRx.org/community-of-practice retrieved 4/24/2017
Ryan, A., Weinstein, N. & Bernstein, J (et al) (2010). Vitalizing effects of being outdoors and in nature. Journal of Environmental Psychology. 30: 159-168
Seltenrich, N (2015). Just what the doctor ordered: using parks to improve children’s health. Environ Health Perspect 123: A254-A259; http//dx.doi.org/10.1289/ehp.123-A254