Kids need Nature

This 2013 blog has an important message that should still resonate with parents today.

Guest blogger N. Glen Perrett suggests getting kids out into nature as an alternative to looking at animals in captivity.

You don’t need studies to realize that children aren’t receiving the same amount of exercise or wilderness experiences that past generations have benefited from. However, studies do confirm this. A Statistics Canada (in partnership with the Public Health Agency of Canada and Health Canada) survey in 2007 found that in recent decades the health of Canadian children has deteriorated while childhood obesity has risen and physical fitness has declined.

When it comes to nature experiences, many children have replaced outdoor play and exercise with electronics including video games, social networking, and text messages to friends. This disconnect with nature and its consequences is addressed by Richard Louv in his books Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder and The Nature Principle: Human Restoration and the End of Nature-Deficit Disorder.

There are many health benefits associated with nature that we know of – and surely many others that haven’t been discovered yet. Studies indicate that nature can help those with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Nature is also attributed to reducing stress and depression as well as improving our ability to concentrate to name only a few mental health benefits. Our family certainly experienced the benefits of regular nature excursions as we spent the last two years hiking wilderness areas for my book Hikes & Outings of South-Central Ontario . No matter what state of mind we were in when we arrived at the natural area we were about to explore-and we were often tired or stressed-we were in a wonderful frame of mind shortly after hitting the scenic trails or exploring a wetland.

Nature also has benefits for our physical health. Studies have shown that patients with a view of nature spend less time in the hospital compared to patients who didn’t have a view of nature during their hospital stay. In their recently published book Your Brain on Nature (Wiley) Eva M. Selhub, MD and Alan C. Logan, ND cited a study published in the journal Science. The study pertained to patients in a Pennsylvania hospital from 1972 to 1981 who had surgery to remove their gallbladder. One side of the hospital featured windows with a view of a small forest while the other looked at bricks. According to the authors, “…those who had an outdoor view to trees had significantly shorter hospital stays and fewer postsurgical complaints. They also used less-potent analgesic medications (aspirin instead of narcotics).”

Of course spending time in nature usually involves hiking and other forms of exercise which have many health benefits including preventing heart disease, lowering cholesterol levels, and controlling and preventing diabetes. The benefits of exercising, particularly exercising in nature, even has the medical community considering prescribing exercise as a way for their patients to get healthier. There is even a “Park Prescriptions” program in the United States where the National Park Service works with health care professionals. Working with the park to come up with appropriate activities and trails for the patient, health care providers write prescriptions for their patients to walk, bicycle, paddle, or do some other exercise. One of the places where these nature prescriptions occur is Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore which features 15 miles of Lake Michigan shoreline along with 15,000 acres of beach, woods, marshes, and prairies in Indiana.

With nature providing valuable environmental lessons and health benefits, school boards could incorporate more field trips to conservation areas and other wilderness spaces to ensure both their students’ education and health mandates are attained. In fact I can see a time in the near future when parks, schools and health care providers work together to meet our children’s health needs.

N. Glenn Perrett
Author Hikes & Outings of South-Central Ontario
Guest Blogger