A few weeks ago I took my son to the optometrist and she made a passing comment, “For healthy vision you have to regularly spend time outside”. She suggested a few minutes every hour. I started thinking about how once we step outside our eyes work to focus on faraway clouds, what we are holding in our hand, the horizon, the nearby butterfly. All of that variation is critical for the health of our eyes. When we spend most of our time in closed spaces, there are limits on what our eyes need to focus on. When we sit in front of a screen for large amounts of time, we focus on set, close distance. Our eyes don’t receive the diversity of input they require for their health! Going outside to smell the roses and look at the sky affects your vision! These thoughts led to a series of discoveries and memories about the incredible health benefits of going outside.
That line of thinking reminded me of a phone call with my mom a few years ago. We were talking about a new therapy counselors were using. Dirt therapy. Children weren’t getting enough time playing in the dirt and prescribing it, setting it up and having them play in contained dirt areas…helped them. The thought of a child’s main exposure to dirt being scheduled and contained is crazy to me. Consider really how much time your children have to play in the dirt. How much time do you have to play in the dirt? Now, I know dirt means laundry and my goal in life is not to increase the laundry I have to do. Then I stumbled on this little tidbit. There is a strain of bacterium called Mycobacterium vaccae. It improves brain functioning, elevates your mood, decreases anxiety, and … decreases cancer! This bacterium is found naturally in dirt. Playing in the dirt affects your immune system in amazing positive ways! Is that motivating to get you and your children outside?
How about this? You’ve probably already heard that sun exposure produces vitamin D, the only vitamin that isn’t regularly obtained from what we eat. Vitamin D helps us absorb calcium which strengthens our bones. Although we hear about skin cancer, did you know that an increase of Vitamin D and calcium reduces rates of all cancers? Increased sun exposure also increased the chance of survival of those who already have cancer. Children who are vitamin D deficient are four times as likely to develop diabetes. Morning exposure to sunlight increases your production of melatonin, which helps you fall asleep easier.
As I was reading all of this information I stumbled across another article that talked about the importance of movement in children: merry-go-rounds, climbing trees, rolling down hills, and other normal childhood play. To develop balance we need to be on surfaces that are naturally random. Core strength is developed naturally as a child learns to balance through play. Imagine a treadmill compared to running on a dirt path. Your body doesn’t need to constantly adjust on a treadmill, and those little adjustments develop core strength. Consider how a child naturally runs in a game of tag, darting back and forth, changing directions, and starting and stopping. Think of all of the core strength and balance that is developing. That balance affects their entire sensory system. For a child to ever be able to sit and listen and learn, they need to spend hours a day playing outside. Hours!
Yesterday I went for a wander with my children. We stopped at flowers and proceeded at the 1-year-old’s pace. We talked about why we are not going to bring the rolly pollies into our home, which was followed a child running back home to rescue the little colony of rolly pollies she had living in an Easter egg in her room, “I bet they’ll be so happy to be with their family again, Mom!”. We raced to the end of the block, we were up and down to look at bugs and clouds and cracks in the pavement. I had gone for the walk because the baby was sad and nothing works like nature. The goal was a little park a few blocks away. For a parent, a walk can be scary, with a child who runs ahead or into the street. It can feel mind-numbing as you match the pace of a young child or wait for them to follow a snail. I generally end up carrying a child at least part of the way. My mind can easily rush off to my-to do list, instead of staying in the moment with my children. Thanks to all of my recent research, I was able to see what else was happening on our little explore: we were developing our vestibular systems, keeping our vision healthy, collecting some fabulous vitamin D, improving our mood, and a host of other amazing things. We returned home ready to be creative and productive. By small and simple things are great things brought to pass.
Britt grew up in a family of six brothers and one sister and gained a bonus sister later. She camped in the High Sierras, canoed down the Colorado, and played volleyball at Brigham Young University. She then served a mission to South Africa. With all of her time in the gym and the mountains and South Africa, she was totally prepared to become the mother of 2 sons and soon to be 9 daughters. By totally prepared she means willing to love them and muddle through everything else in a partially sleepless state. She is mostly successful at figuring out how to keep the baby clothed, or at least diapered, though her current toddler is challenging this skill. She feels children naturally love to learn and didn’t want to disrupt childhood curiosity with worksheets and school bells. She loves to play in the dirt, read books, go on adventures, watch her children discover new things, and mentor her children. Her oldest child is currently at a community college and her oldest son is going to high school at a public school. She loves to follow her children in their unique paths and interests. She loves to write because, unlike the laundry and the dishes, writing stays done. Whenever someone asks her how she does it all she wonders what in the world they think she’s doing.
Ahhhhh I love the outdoors! So rejuvenating!! Thanks for your article on the benefits to our bodies!