According to recent figures, 5-12 year-olds in the UK spend less than 60 minutes per day on outdoor activities, which includes playing outside, walking, cycling and sports. This means less than 10% of their waking hours are spent in the fresh air – shockingly, this is less than the recommended time for prison inmates! And the bad news doesn’t stop there. Among adults, the figure drops to below 30 minutes a day.

in the street

50 years ago, this would have been unthinkable – so what on earth has happened to us?

Societal changes, particularly since around the 1970s, have had far reaching consequences for our current lifestyles. Top of the list is the increasing reliance on ever more sophisticated and accessible communications technology which means that we now lead fast paced, media driven lives, with more packed into the day than ever before. No wonder that between the job and the commute, looking after the family, doing household chores, relaxing in front of the TV and connecting with friends on social media, 90% of our time is spent indoors.

Have we really forgotten about Mother Nature and the serious benefits to our mental and physical wellbeing that spending time outdoors brings? Surely we know from the evidence that all this indoor time is having a negative time on our health, and our children’s health?

Indoor air pollution

Much has been written about air pollution, so it might be reasonable to assume that the air inside your home is less polluted, but this isn’t necessarily the case. Studies have been carried out that suggest the concentration of some pollutants can be substantially higher in an indoor environment.

Carbon monoxide and particulate matters from cooking appliances and fireplaces, formaldehyde and flame retardants found in upholstery fabrics and carpets and other chemicals present in furnishings, building materials and household products can all have a detrimental effect on our health when inhaled in an enclosed space. And that’s on top of ‘normal’ dirt such as dust, mould or pet hairs.

Good ventilation will help but the best way to combat indoor pollution symptoms such as burning eyes, scratchy throat, breathing problems, headaches, fatigue and brain fog is to spend more time out of doors.

Isn’t it high time we all unplugged and stepped outside more? Plan a family outing and take the kids cycling or fishing, teach them bushcraft skills or go rock climbing. Find an experience provider (such as Into the Blue) and choose a fun day out with all the family. The exact activity isn’t as important as making it a priority to regularly get outdoors and enjoy life in 3D.

On a bike

Here are 7 reasons why this is good for all of us.

  1. Increase your vitamin D intake

The fact that large sections of the population aren’t getting enough vitamin D is not exactly news. Even 10 years ago, researchers recognised the widespread vitamin D deficiency as a pandemic. The body’s best source is the sun – it’s where we get 80-90% of our vitamin D from. Just 15 minutes of sunshine a day should be sufficient to help the body synthesise this essential vitamin.

However, if you spend too much time indoors, your diet alone won’t be able to provide enough to satisfy your body’s needs, however many vitamin D rich foods such as eggs, cheese and oily fish you consume. Low levels of vitamin D are linked to an increased risk of contracting depression, dementia, heart disease, cancer, osteoporosis and pregnancy complications. Enough said?

  1. Get the body moving

It doesn’t take a genius to work out that you move more when you go outside. Whether you like walking or jogging, cycling or horse riding, playing golf or football, physical exercise helps you to burn more calories. What’s more, outdoor exercise is more enjoyable – it’s a virtuous cycle: the more you like doing it, the longer you will want to do it, and the more calories you will burn.

Sadly, it is a well known fact that obesity and obesity related problems such as diabetes, cancer, high blood pressure and heart disease are one of the major problems of sedentary lifestyles. Whether you enjoy the Great Outdoors for its own sake, exercise to combat a weight problem or just to stay in shape, you simply can’t beat outdoor activities.

  1. Feel more energetic and less stressed

We’ve always known nature to be a great healer, both physically and mentally. If you want to re-energise your body and mind and boost your levels of vitality, go outside and reconnect with nature – it’s scientifically proven to be better than a strong cup of coffee. Just a short walk in the open air has the effect of lowering your heart rate, blood pressure and cortisol levels, making you less stressed and feeling much better.

Some studies have reported the benefits of forest bathing, originally a Japanese practice of walking among forest trees that apparently has immune system boosting effects that last well beyond the actual walk. Go on, what have you got to lose?

  1. Boost your memory and concentration

What’s the best way to regain clarity of mind when you’re distracted? Go outside – just a little bit of fresh air and sunshine is all it takes to revive your attention span. Studies have shown that something as simple as a walk in the park helps to improve brain function and mental focus, and short-term memory in particular.

What’s more, outdoor time promotes a greater free flow of ideas, releasing your creativity much more than when you’re stuck indoors all day.

Children with attention deficit issues benefit particularly from outdoor time, scoring consistently higher in concentration test after spending time outdoors.

  1. Improve your mood and general happiness

The level of serotonin (the ‘feelgood’ neurotransmitter) in the brain is affected by the amount of sunlight exposure on any given day. Time outside affects your mental wellbeing in a positive way and can lower symptoms of Seasonally Affective Disorder (SAD).

There is scientific evidence to suggest that something as simple as going for regular walks not only improves your mood on the day, but that it can play a role in dealing with serious conditions such as depression on a purely non-pharmacological basis.

  1. Improve your sleeping patterns

Your own circadian rhythm and melatonin levels are responsible for determining how well you sleep – and both of these are affected by your exposure to natural sunlight. If you don’t spend enough time outside, your body’s natural rhythms are interrupted and poor sleep is the likely result.

Increase the amount of daylight exposure by spending more time outside, and look forward to more restful sleep. When you think about it, it’s not rocket science, though there are plenty of scientific studies where a correlation between more time spent outdoors and better sleep quality has been conclusively proven.

  1. Improve your eyesight

We all know that staring at the screen (TV, computer, tablet, phone…) for hours on end is bad for your eyes but did you know that it’s been scientifically proven that prolonged exposure, especially among children, can actually increase the chances of becoming short sighted?

by the lake

Time spent outdoors is good for eyes of all ages. Allowing the eyes to focus on something in the distant helps to exercise different ocular muscles, which lets the eyes relax and recover, reduces eye strain and dry eye syndrome.

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