Eat your greens, get enough sleep and exercise — and now, make sure to spend enough time outside each week, experts say.
The list of ways to live a happier and healthier lifestyle continues to grow. A recent study completed in England showed that spending at least 120 minutes a week in an outdoor setting is associated with good health and well being.
The study, published in Nature, looked at participants of all ages and backgrounds and how recreational contact with nature over a week affected their self-reported health and well-being. The positive patterns were consistent, and how the 120 minutes was achieved did not affect the benefits, according to the study.
Mike Simmons, 4-H Center program facilitator at the Vines Center at Little Rock, recognized the good spending more time outdoors can do.
Simmons has been in charge of the 4-H Outdoor School Summer Day Camp since 2009. The program is designed for campers from 7-15 years old and focuses on keeping them unplugged and connected with nature while working on key life skills.
He has noticed a decline in kids spending time outside over the years, Simmons said.
“I personally have seen kids benefit from spending time outside,” Simmons said. “They learn so much. It’s both intellectually and physically stimulating.”
Children ages 5-16 now typically spend six or more hours a day in front of a screen, compared to the three hours children spent in front of a screen in 1995, according to a 2015 BBC News article. The article cited a study completed by market research firm Childwise.
“Excessive screen time has been shown to contribute to anxiety in kids and cause them to limit physical activity, which can contribute to other health and development problems,” said Brittney Schrick, assistant professor and family life specialist.
“Aside from getting away from screens, going outside has additional benefits like reducing anxiety by interacting with nature, doing physical movement that contributes to heart, cardiovascular, and brain health, exploring the environment and learning about the world,” Schrick said.
Participants in the 4-H Outdoor School Summer Day Camp get the chance to apply life skills in an outdoor setting and learn how to thrive in the environment in smart ways, Simmons said.
Each week of camp has two themes and activities are related to that theme.
The activities differ by theme, but usually focus on hands-on learning or activities that emphasize teamwork, communication and sportsmanship, Simmons said.
The camp also has core activities such as rock climbing, fishing, swimming, hiking, archery and more, Simmons said.
“We’re all about unplugged, good old fashioned fun,” he said.
Simmons recommends “anything that sparks curiosity” when looking for ways to connect with nature.
Spending more time outside does not have to be a major time or financial commitment, Simmons said. Hiking, bird-watching, fishing and astronomy are only a few low-cost options that are easy to accomplish.
The summer heat can make time outdoors a bit tricky, however.
“Choosing activities that the family enjoys, like swimming or visiting the local splash pad or lake at times when it’s hot outside, can be a fun way to stay cool,” Schrick said.
As summer winds down, there are still many ways to get involved with the outdoors and with 4-H.
“Each county has their own 4-H agent, and people can contact those agents for more information about the program in every part of the state,” Simmons said.
To learn about more about programs offered by the Cooperative Extension Service in Arkansas, contact a local Cooperative Extension Service agent, visit www.uaex.edu or follow the agency on Twitter at @UAEX_edu.
The University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture offers all its Extension and Research programs to all eligible persons without discrimination.
— Abbi Ross is with the U of A System Division of Agriculture.