Forest Fitness NI

Benefits of outdoor play on children’s health

Children can improve their health and fitness through outdoor play and leisure activities. The freedom and space of being outdoors can encourage more expansive movement leading to good physical exercise and helping prevent obesity.

When they play outdoors, children have fun and benefit from:

  • running and chasing which can develop good physical fitness, agility, and stamina
  • jumping and running which can develop bone density, large muscle groups, and stability
  • climbing which can develop coordination, balance, and strength
  • time away from busy routines and timetables
  • freedom to shout, make noise, and let off steam

Being outdoors is good for eye health.  Spending time outdoors reduces short-sightedness (myopia) in children and young people.

Benefits of outdoor play on children’s well-being

Playing outdoors allows children to develop self-confidence, independence, and self-esteem. They also become aware of limits, boundaries, and challenges in their play.

When children are used to playing outdoors, they are more likely to:

  • try new activities
  • engage with others
  • solve problems
  • explore the natural environment
  • make friends
  • show resilience

Doing physical exercise every day

As they grow up, children experience rapid and different physical and psychological changes. These changes can influence their future health and well-being.

For physical health and mental well-being, it’s important that children get physical exercise.

Getting regular exercise through play can prevent illnesses as an adult including:

  • obesity
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • heart disease
  • cancer

Pre-school-aged children who can walk independently need to do physical activity for at least three hours every day. Children aged between five and 18 need to do vigorous activity for at least an hour every day.

Making time for playing outdoors

Children playing outdoors enjoy running around, climbing, balancing, dancing, digging, and jumping. Parents should allow children space and freedom to play outdoors.

Encourage children to do traditional activities such as:

  • tug O war
  • assault course
  • laser tag
  • nerf-wars

Playing in the neighbourhood

Get to know your neighbourhood by walking and cycling in the area. Bring your children so they know the areas suitable for playing. Agree on where they can play and where they must not go. Speak to other parents about allowing their children outdoors to play.

Staying safe outdoors

Teach your children how to stay safe outdoors when they’re young. Show them road safety skills. If you’re worried about your child’s safety, stay nearby where they’re playing.

Playing outdoors in all seasons

Whatever the weather, dress your children so they can go outdoors and play.

Wear warm clothes on cold, wet days.

Put sunscreen and hats on your children when the weather is hot and sunny.

There are different things to do outdoors such as:

  • jumping in puddles
  • Bushcraft
  • building dens
  • mini assault courses

Limiting children’s screen time

To encourage your children to go outdoors, you should limit their time on digital screens, including mobile technology and televisions.

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