By Jenny Walczak, PSYD
Clinical director of mental and behavioral health, Children’s Wisconsin
Did you know that getting outside and enjoying a little fresh air is scientifically proven to be good for your health? Of course, most of us are trying to stay home due to COVID-19, but that doesn’t mean you can’t get some fresh air. Here are a few things we know about why fresh air and sunshine are good for everyone!
Just make sure to follow safety precautions such as physical distancing and not gathering in groups.
With many people having been in their homes for extended periods of time due to COVID-19, happiness may be beginning to turn into grumpiness. Lack of sunlight can throw off your biological clock and sleep patterns, which can affect your serotonin levels — serotonin is a chemical that nerve cells produce that contributes to a sense of happiness. When these levels are low or disrupted, it can lead to mood swings in both adults and children.
Exposure to sunlight can help improve your mood because it stimulates the pineal gland in our brain, which is vital to happiness and immunity. Our skin absorbs UV-B rays from the sun and converts it into vitamin D. Studies show that a little vitamin D in your life can boost your mood and can help protect against depression.
This time can be especially challenging for children with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) who regularly deal with inattention and/or hyperactivity. A 2008 study showed that children with ADHD were able to concentrate better after spending time in green spaces. Try taking a walk or spending time out in the yard. Children who play outdoors regularly are more curious and likely to stay on task longer.
Cognitive and social/emotional development
There are numerous benefits to children engaging in unstructured outdoor play. It helps children learn to take turns, share and develop other positive behavioral skills. They are more likely to explore the world around them, entertain themselves and be more creative. For example, children may make up games with siblings, create chalk art or build forts in the yard. These types of activities may help to improve communication, cooperation and organizational skills.
Bonus! Fresh air and free play is shown to reduce stress levels.
Increases physical activity
When you’re outside, many times it’s for physical activity. Physical activity has been shown to help people relax and improve their mood. A few ideas for outdoor physical activities may include creating a hopscotch in the driveway, taking a bike ride around your neighborhood or having races (think kids versus adults!). Mix it up and have fun!
With the amazing technological advances made in handheld devices, screens are a popular choice for kids. But phones or tablets only involve two senses: hearing and sight.
When you go outside, all of your senses are stimulated. Think about it… you can see different animals — a bird, a squirrel or a chipmunk. Smell the new blooming spring flowers. Touch different textures — soft grass, pointy sticks, rough tree bark, smooth rocks. Hear birds chirping or the sound of a neighbor mowing the lawn. Even taste can be a part of it. Take a picnic outside or if you’re lucky enough to grow vegetables or fruit, pluck something for a treat.
COVID-19 rules don’t have to mean inside all of the time. If you choose to go outside and enjoy the sunshine, just remember to be safe and maintain a minimum of six feet of distance from others outside your home.
If you have questions about your child’s health, please contact your child’s doctor. If they don’t have a doctor, call 2-1-1 and an operator can direct you to the nearest community health clinic or other needed resources.
For the latest tips and news from Children’s Wisconsin, go to childrenswi.org/newshub.