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Outside play makes kids healthier

Playing outdoors benefits children in many ways.
Playing outdoors benefits children in many ways.

The World Health Organization recommends that children play outside at least 60 minutes a day. Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move initiative echoes this idea, encouraging kids to engage I moderate physical activity for at least an hour a day. Why is outside play so important?

One reason for outside play is that kids are no longer getting as much play time during school hours as in years past. Recess, where kids were allowed free play time, and access to playground equipment, open fields, and accessories such as kick balls and jump ropes, no longer is automatically built into school schedules.

Phys ed classes don’t place as much emphasis on total physical development with a rounded variety of sports and activities training the whole body. With the onset of the nationwide common core standards, PE time now mandates class time to learn sport theory, history and other information. While this is valuable knowledge, it often replaces the physical activity of actual sport participation, since kids must now be tested on sport knowledge, not just evaluated on gym class skills and participation.

Kids who do not include at least an hour of physical activity in their daily schedule after school hours spent at least 70 more minutes of sedentary time during the day, according to a report recently published in the Journal of Pediatrics.

Outdoor play improves cardiovascular fitness. Walking, running, swinging, climbing, biking, all help kids built healthy muscles and increase the flow of blood throughout the body. This improved blood flow benefits the brain. Play, whether free play or organized sports helps the nervous system grow and mature. It also helps improve balance and coordination.

Play has non- health benefits, too. Engaging in organized sports helps kids learn and strengthen social skills. It teaches them teamwork, a skill they will need in most adult jobs. They learn to observe, plan, make judgment calls, and become responsible for their own actions and how they relate to peers.

Kids who exercise regularly tend to eat healthier. Often through trial and error, kids learn how the foods they consume affect their energy levels and ability to think in sport minded ways to benefit their team and their personal fitness.

Trying various sports widens kids’ knowledge base and taps into skills and abilities they may potentially excel at. Many world class athletes “fell into” their sport accidentally through just trying something new.

So whether it’s swimming, boxing, pole vaulting, skiing, dancing, cheerleading or horseback riding, encourage the children you know to get off the sofa and get moving.

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