On the face of it it’s a no brainer – should children be exposed to the countryside, have the freedom to explore and marvel at nature’s colours and diversity and great trees to climb, do it with friends, get the exercise and come back covered in mud bearing stories of insects and with light in their eyes? The answer is of course yes….we know it by instinct, by thinking on the generations that have done it before and often on reflecting on our own childhood and what we really enjoyed. Compare it with the arid uniform grey landscape often found in the cities. It is a good idea on so many levels – not least connecting us all to the land on which we depend and from which we have come.
And is it healthy? Well we know exercise is good for you at any age – and in children it helps develop stamina, balance, strong bones and burns off those calories and all that pent up energy.
Children feel better about themselves when they exercise and are a healthy weight. Lack of exercise leads to low stamina, low energy and being overweight. We are now officially the fattest country in Europe and children get far too little exercise especially with many schools having sold off their playing fields. Furthermore obese children have a higher long term risk of future disease especially diabetes and are probably more prone to low moods and even being depressed (we know in adults that exercise is both protective against and helpful with depression.)
Exercise also promotes the formation of strong bones and the bulk of bone formation is during childhood. Furthermore sunshine gives us vitamin D which is needed for bone formation and how important this is may be reflected by the increasing awareness of just how many people are vitamin D deficient.
Finally there is the aspect of children being able to play without fear. So often in the concrete environment there are concerns and the countryside is a relatively safe environment where children can explore and be adventurous – qualities that should be developed to help build their confidence.
So for all these reasons, get your children out into nature – especially when the sun is shining!
Derek Chase FRCGP
General Practitioner, London
If you are interested in finding out more about how getting healthy is also good for the environment then please take a look at the NHS Sustainable Development Unit website where you can find out how the NHS is doing its bits for the environment/planet.