Whenever we ‘go bush’ we invariably turn to each other and exclaim’ how good is this?’ even if we were outdoors only days earlier. What we feel in our bones is increasingly held out as good science underpinning an understanding that Vitamin N (nature) is a real thing and essential (critical even) for healthy living.
The need to be outdoors is often couched in terms of getting children active and outside, to address the issue of obesity and lifelong health issues established in childhood. But getting outside is increasingly problematic as backyards shrink or disappear altogether. That subject has been covered recently in The Australian (January 2020). To offset that challenge others have actively established programs to encourage ‘free range’ kids. Anyone detect the irony – structuring free range? (ABC 29 April 2019). But if only 8% of kids play outside each day and about 20% don’t get suitable exercise anything is better than nothing. Getting outside and free range playing has serious benefits according to psychologist and lecturer at Sunshine Coast University Dr Rachael Sharman. She said “children who do spend time playing outside with other kids have better "executive function", such as forward planning, insight and using creative plans to work towards a goal. She said they also had better sleep and greater resilience. "They're learning lots of skills around emotion recognition, communication, team building and problem solving, and don't want mum and dad helicoptering in and solving all their problems for them.”
While we are talking about things we already know, how about the UK National Child Development Study, a lifelong study of almost 10,000 people from across the UK who were born in November 1958. Scientists from Edinburgh and Glasgow universities found that about a quarter of the study participants had been in the Scouts or Guides, and this group was around 15% less likely to go on to suffer from anxiety or mood disorders at age 50. Researchers say their findings suggest programmes that help children develop skills such as self-reliance and teamwork, and encourage being active outdoors, which may have lifelong benefits. And Sharman cites US research documenting how a walk through a nature area or park can match the therapeutic benefits for some children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
The benefits of course are not just limited to the kids. “Access to nature has a proven calming effect on people, lowering blood pressure and anxiety levels. A Canadian study summarising the various benefits turned up by international research found that contact with nature can restore the ability of adults to pay attention and speed recovery from illness. It may even reduce the risk of early death.”
Were you paying attention? No? It’s simple really – get outside. And get some Vitamin N.