Scientific studies abound with support for the timeless wisdom of moms everywhere! Spending more time outdoors is good for kids. It keeps their bodies in good shape, protects against obesity and a variety of diseases, sharpens distance vision, and reduces their chances of myopia (nearsightedness). Are you a skeptic that sending your kids outside to play really packs so much power? Our Ellicott City eye doctor explains the benefits of the great outdoors:
Indoor children are at risk
In the past twenty years, childhood has taken a cushy seat indoors. The average kid in America now spends as little as a half-hour a day playing outside daily – and more than seven hours per day gazing at a digital screen! What does all this time indoors on the couch mean for kids’ health? The effects are obvious:
- Rates of childhood obesity have more than doubled
- The US is now the largest consumer of ADHD medications worldwide
- Many children are suffering the effects of not enough sleep
- Pediatricians are prescribing more antidepressants than ever
- Myopia is reaching epidemic proportions
Since when is sun exposure a good thing?
In moderation and with appropriate protection for skin and eyes, exposure to the sun can be a good thing. Bodies need access to the sun to make vitamin D, which is key for many biological processes, such as strengthening your immune system and bone development.
In addition, spending time outdoors can help your kids get a good night’s sleep. Contemporary children tend to suffer from sleep deprivation, likely due to the way they fill their downtime with electronic gadgets and television. Spending time outside can promote a deeper sleep for children by keeping them more alert during the day, lifting their moods, and helping to set their biological clocks in a better wake-sleep cycle.
As you send your kids to the park, remember the advice of your Ellicott City optometrist: slather your kids with sunscreen to safeguard their skin and make sure they wear sunglasses with 100% UV protection to protect their vision. And don’t worry – sunglasses don’t block the benefits of sunlight.
Connection between sun and vision
The results of a large study conducted jointly by the USC Eye Institute and the NIH show that the rate of myopia among kids in America has more than doubled in the past 50 years! Even more dramatic are the statistics in Asia, where at least 90% of the population has been diagnosed with myopia, in contrast to only 10-20% 60 years ago. Why is this happening? Take a guess…. Yep! One primary reason is because kids are spending less time outdoors.
When kids stay inside watching television, swiping their phones, or clicking on their tablet, it stresses their eyes. They are only focusing on near objects, often in dim lighting with poor visual contrast and glare – all of which strain their eyes. Outdoors, children also relax their eye muscles by gazing into the distance.
Recent research explored the amount of time children spend outside in relation to nearsightedness. The study demonstrated that more time outside had a preventive effect for the onset of myopia. And if a child is already nearsighted, spending time outside can slow the progression of myopia.
Want to understand more about the science of eyes and vision? When kids play outside, they are exposed to UVB rays, which triggers the release of dopamine in the retina and circulates vitamin D in the body. Altogether, these processes help to protect their eyes against myopia. Natural light also appears to slow the axial growth of the eye, and it is precisely this type of growth that contributes to nearsightedness.
Balance indoor and outdoor time for kids
A healthy balance of spending time in the fresh air and staying safe from overexposure to the sun’s harmful rays is the rule to follow! Our Ellicott City eye doctor encourages parents to set limits on screen time for kids, and to remember that kids learn by example. You can make outdoor time into a family event by playing sports, going to the park, gardening, or even strolling around the block together (with your sunglasses on, of course!).