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Columnist Josie Haneklau argues that spending time outside can have additional health benefits than one may think of at first. 

It’s common knowledge that spending time outside is good for you, but few understand how important being outdoors is for health, especially at a young age. Unfortunately, fewer children are spending time outside. This not only creates a bad habit of a lifetime indoors but it also denies essential health benefits at a young age. It’s recommended that children spend three hours a day outside. Yet, in today’s society, kids aged 10 to 16 spend less than 15 minutes a day outdoors. If children are spending such minimal amounts of time in the sunlight, the statistic must be even less for adults with busy work lives.

This lack of life outdoors is dangerous for more than one health reason. For one, spending time outside is scientifically proven to improve mental health. When searching through online forums about how to decrease anxiety and relax, one of the top results is, “to get some fresh air,” by spending time outdoors. It’s human instinct to be calmed by nature. Even having a window in a workplace is correlated to higher job satisfaction. Since being in nature is a de-stressor, it’s also proven to decrease blood pressure, eliminate mental drain and fatigue and improve the ability to focus. For children who need to release steam, or for those over 18 who are looking for a way to reduce stress after a long day of school or work, being in nature is an easy and free solution. 

In 2008, researches claimed that vitamin D deficiency had become a “pandemic.” Since exposure to sunlight is the leading way that humans absorb vitamin D, it’s safe to associate this to a decline in outdoor activity. A decreased amount of vitamin D leads to a myriad of health risks, like cardiovascular disease and complications during pregnancy.

There’s also a direct correlation between spending time outdoors and reducing inflammation. Inflammation refers to a variety of health conditions including bowel or joint problems and even depression. Research shows that those who have inflammatory conditions experience drastic improvement from spending time outdoors.

Children who don’t spend much time outside are being found to have a lower social functioning than those who do. This is because spending time outside playing with neighborhood friends leads to a wide range of creative thinking and confidence building activities that are more extreme than indoor play. What a person learns early on in life is often imprinted with them for the rest of it. If a lack of time spent playing outside is leading to children being less social with under-developed communication skills, it’s worrying to think how this may impact them in school, in the workplace or in day-to-day life.

Because spending time outside reduces many health risks and leads to various benefits, it’s conclusive that it leads to a longer life span in humans. That alone is enough incentive to want to be more involved with nature. Even something as simple as keeping outdoor gear by the front door can stimulate the mind into wanting to head outdoors. More people should find encouraging ways like this to get themselves in the sunlight.

 

Josie Haneklau is a sophomore political science and psychology double major. Contact Josie at hanekljr@dukes.jmu.edu.