We all know that outdoor play benefits cardiovascular health and offers kids a much-needed break from electronic media … but did you know that’s just the beginning?

 

As you encourage the families in your community to visit your playground, take the opportunity to educate them on the lesser-known benefits of playing outdoors:

Improved Attention Spans

According to a study reported in the American Journal of Public Health, time spent outdoors, particularly in greener settings, improved symptoms in children with ADHD, regardless of gender, socioeconomic factors, or environment (urban versus rural). Even when children engaged in the same type of activity indoors and outdoors (running, climbing, etc), it was the outdoor activity that showed a positive effect on ADHD symptoms.

Enhanced Social Skills

Because playground equipment must be shared, kids must work out among themselves who gets to do what, when, and for how long. Not everyone can go down the slide at the same time, for example, so kids must learn how to cooperate — how to make sure everyone gets a turn and how to wait for theirs. Even when it looks like they’re “just running around,” they’re actually learning the ABCs of cooperation, fair play, and respect for others.

Improved Vision

Better vision through outdoor play? According to two separate studies in Australia, the answer is yes. Data from the Orinda Longitudinal Study of Myopia showed that children of myopic parents who spend sufficient time outside are at only slightly greater risk for developing myopia than children without myopic parents. And results from the Sydney Myopia Study suggest that greater time spent outside can override the myopia risks associated with near work and schooling.

 

The precise reason for this benefit is not yet clear, but it could involve pupil constriction in the brighter outdoor light, which results in greater depth of focus, or it could be a direct effect of the light exposure itself. Whatever the reason, parents in your community who are concerned with their kids’ visual health should be encouraged to take advantage of your playground and other outdoor amenities.

Decreased Stress

Yes, kids can have stress, especially those who have busy schedules both within and outside of school. Studies show that regular outdoor play can alleviate symptoms of stress and also ward off more serious concerns such as depression and anxiety.

Vitamin D

Spending time in the sunshine — even during winter when the sun is not as warm — boosts kids’ Vitamin D levels. This important vitamin can help young bodies ward against bone problems and heart disease in the future and can even boost mood, energy levels, and memory. Studies show that even 10-15 minutes of outdoor exposure can boost Vitamin D levels and the related benefits.

 

So the next time someone asks why your community needs a playground, tell them you’re providing a vital resource to help families raise happier, healthier kids — in more ways than one!

February is upon us and as Valentine’s Day approaches, hearts are popping up everywhere — stores, schools, shopping malls, and offices. But this is also the month to turn our attention to our real hearts — the ones that pump our blood — and making sure they stay healthy.

February was declared American Heart Health Month in 2009 in an effort to raise awareness around the national problem of heart disease and high blood pressure. Heart disease continues to be the leading cause of death in both men and women in the United States, and 1 in 3 American adults has high blood pressure.

Doctors agree that regular physical activity, along with a healthy diet, is one of the most effective ways of preventing heart disease, and those active habits begin in childhood. A team of researchers at University of California, Riverside found in a 2015 study that kids who exercise early in life are more likely to exercise as adults … and reap the heart-healthy benefits.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that children get at least one hour of physical activity every single day. And what better place to enjoy that activity than a playground?

Your playground offers the children of your school, church, or neighborhood a safe, controlled environment that engages their imaginations while they enjoy the thrill of being physically active. It’s also a natural gathering place where families come together … and we all know that being active is more fun when you do it with a friend.

So what can you do to encourage heart-healthy habits in your community? Here are a few ideas to get you started:

  • Send out a flyer to raise awareness of American Heart Health Month and encourage families to make one commitment that will help them be more active, like taking daily family walks.
  • Host a “healthy hearts” event at your playground featuring health screenings, healthy food tastings, workshops on heart health, and fun activities for the kids like flag football and dance-a-thons.
  • If you have a newsletter, devote your February issue to American Heart Health Month and share healthy recipes and family activity ideas.
  • Create a “course” that takes kids through your playground and includes cardio activities between equipment stations, such as jumping jacks or jogging in place.
  • Start a group of families who meet at your playground once a week — maybe Saturday or Sunday mornings — and suggest activities for both kids and parents to get their hearts pumping while they enjoy the camaraderie.

 

Wishing you and your community a heart-healthy February!

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