Health: Introducing kids to the joy of the great outdoors

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In the park or woods, Abi Jackson reports on the fun of outside play.

It’s well-documented that gardening is good for you.

Regular gardening can significantly cut the risk of heart attack or stroke and Gardeners World magazine found that green-fingered folk experience less depression.

A survey by UK charity The National Gardens Scheme (NGS) found that British adults associate gardens with a range of benefits including relaxation, being in touch with nature, having time to themselves and keeping active.

But, these benefits aren’t exclusive to older people – time outdoors can work wonders for the health and happiness of kids too.

Life can be stressful and confusing for kids. Getting outside is a chance for them to fill their lungs with fresh air, burn off excess energy and frustration, soak up the joys of nature and just play – away from the TV, computer and smartphone screens.

Of course, not everybody has a garden, but that doesn’t mean doesn’t mean kids can’t enjoy the outdoors.

GARDEN GLEE

“Gardens can give children a great sense of freedom, beauty and enjoyment, especially if they don’t have easy access to nature in their home environment,” says NGS chief executive George Plumptre. “Often full of interesting things to look for and think about, gardens can provide children with hours of fun and stimulation. This could be through building a den with friends or learning about what creatures lie at the bottom of the pond.”

WOODLAND magic

There’s something especially magical and imagination-fuelling about woods and forests.

They’re also a great way to enhance kids’ health, social skills and learning, the Forestry Commission England points out. Research by the organisation found social interaction and learning in woodland environments can boost children’s self-confidence and self-esteem.

Yet many kids are missing out – according to the 2009’s Childhood and Nature survey on behalf of Natural England, only 10 per cent of children have played in woodland, compared with 40 per cent of their parents’ generation.

There is some good news though, the Commission found most parents agree “playing in woods is good for children’s health”.

PARTY IN THE PARK

Parks are a great place to get outdoors – and get active. It’s recommended that kids have 60 minutes of physical activity a day, but many are falling short.

Exercise boosts general happiness and confidence levels and will help youngsters sleep and concentrate better.

“Having an active summer can be as simple as taking the kids to the park,” says Sainsbury’s Active Kids ambassador Ellie Simmonds.

The Paralympic swimming champ has just launched Sainsbury’s School Games, but says families can recreate sports day during weekends and school holidays too.

“Going to the park is free, and there’s a park local to everyone. You could organise a family cricket or football match or any sort of games you enjoy. It gets the kids active and outside and encourages a bit of healthy competitiveness - and you won’t even be thinking that you’re exercising as it’ll just feel like you’re having fun.”

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