By Dr. Jenn Ripepi, The Choosy Pediatrician
Aaah! The fresh air of late spring after a rain is one of my favorite smells! The chance to be outside after the cold of winter is something I always look forward to when I'm huddling under a blanket. Since summer is almost officially here (June 20), I'd like you to think about the importance of outdoor play and being Choosy outside.
We have changed our patterns of living so much that instead of our kids having to be called in from outside, we have to force them to go outside. Not all children, but too many for this next generation's health, are staying inside and sedentary. Yep, back in the good old days (I AM over 50 so I can say that!), we did play outside from sun up to sun down. A ball and a friend were all we needed some days. During that time, we learned to test our physical skills and our imagination by coming up with fun things to do. We tried to improve our ability to perform whatever the neighborhood challenge was that week like hopscotch or jump rope or throwing a ball to hit a stationary bat.
Outdoor play strengthens our bodies and our minds but it is very important for our bones. Our human race has spent most of its existence and development outside. The sunlight is important for our bodies to produce Vitamin D which in turn helps to strengthen our bones as we work against gravity (like when we walk and run). Certainly we need to protect our skin with sunscreen to prevent damage but that does not mean to stay inside. Building our skeleton leads to better protection as we age. And if we do suffer a broken bone while being active, we tend to heal better if our bones were strong from the start.
Our brains need sunlight too. We are meant to be in the light (but don't forget about using sunglasses and hats for protection from UV rays). Our eyes have developed for daytime activity. Seeing in the dark is for other creatures. But a game of flashlight tag after dark or catching fireflies can help you to appreciate playing in the dark as well! And as the sun sinks our brain makes melatonin which helps us to sleep better and more soundly.
How about the freedom of space that being outside affords? It gives us all a chance to spread our arms (wings?) and move over the ground in a way we can't when we are indoors. That unrestricted movement, along with a chance to use our outside voices, is exhilarating. Physical activity causes our muscles to stretch, send signals to our brain to learn new movements, to release endorphins (the "feel good" brain chemicals) and just have fun! I love to take a walk at lunchtime and be able to hear the noise from an elementary school playground at recess. I know those children will be able to focus better during their afternoon classes because they had a chance to PLAY OUTSIDE.
How do you think that being outside helps you and the children in your life? Choosy loves the outdoors, too!
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