I am a pediatric hospitalist. That is, I am a pediatrician who takes care of children sick enough to be hospitalized. So my writing about the importance of children spending time outdoors and enjoying nature might be surprising. Even though I may only take care of a child for the worst few days of their life, I am still quite passionate about the fundamental role of outdoor play in a child’s health and well-being.
Even during acute illness, I find that children often heal faster when they are given more opportunities to be playful and (illness-allowing) go outdoors to allow Mother Nature to heal them from within. So needless to say, I am often amazed at how little exposure many of these children have had, even prior to becoming ill, to spend time playing outdoors and getting to know their environment.
Now especially, as the days begin to get longer, and the refreshing spring air returns to our beautiful Pacific Northwest, I start thinking about all the wonderful outdoor fun I used to have as a child, and the importance such activities had on my own health and overall sense of well-being.
I worry that children of today encounter a world built on indoor living and technology and that a lack of spending time outdoors has led to a decrease in physical activity. This in turn has led to an increase in childhood obesity and its complications such as type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure. With the addition of technology to run so many aspects of their lives, the current generation of children is becoming the first to grow up without a true physical connection to nature, and suffering serious health consequences as a result.
Of course technological advances have their place in education and certainly have much value, but at the same time, these “gadgets” cannot replace the need for children to have direct experiences with nature. I worry that today’s children may not be getting enough opportunities to experience the first-hand beauty of our nature and environment, relying instead on “virtual experiences” gained through video games or computer screens instead.
There are some lessons that must be learnt through books and technology and by sitting in an indoor classroom, but sometimes, when it comes time to improve a child’s inner well-being through health and fitness, Mother Nature herself may be the greatest teacher of all. Let the experience of our children’s childhood include time spent in parks and yards, running carefree with the wind at their backs, relishing the beauty of the sky, hearing the wind rustle through the trees, and feel the Earth beneath their feet.
As a pediatrician, I use the power of medicine to try and heal children, but realize that there is a limit to how much science and technology can do. Spending time outdoors or appreciating nature’s beauty can help alleviate a child’s suffering both from the physical and mental aspects. It helps heal the body and soul.