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How Outdoor Play Can Improve Children’s Mental Health

A recent study conducted in the UK revealed that there has been a remarkable increase in the mental health problems among the children. Today in the UK, it’s estimated that 1 in 10 school aged children suffer from a diagnosable mental health disorder – that’s around three children in every school class. One of the major factors that seems to be contributing to these results is the lack of frequent connection with the natural world outdoors. Here is how regular outdoor play can improve children’s mental health.

  1. Emotional Wellbeing

There’s something about running free and breathing in the fresh air that helps both children and adults to clear their minds. For children, spending some time away from the classroom environment and being able to play outdoors ensures that they get time to rewind and relax. It’s the best way for children to clear their heads and give their brains a breather.

  1. Helps in Releasing Serotonin

Outdoor play never fails to bring happiness to children. Serotonin, the neurotransmitter that facilitates regulation of mood and emotions, is closely tied to happiness. When children are having fun, serotonin is released.

Another factor attributed to the release of serotonin is vitamin D, which is acquired from the sun. It is evident that outdoor play allows children to enjoy higher levels of vitamin D. About 80% to 90% of the vitamin D that we get is from the sun. Playing in the natural settings allows children to get the best source of this vitamin. If you are concerned about the risks of too much exposure to the sun, you can use sunscreen or limit the time spent directly under the sun.

Vitamin D helps in the release of serotonin to the brain and lack of it has been associated with the development of mental problems such as low moods, depression, and schizophrenia. High levels of serotonin are important to children’s mental health and development. A 2008 study showed that adolescents who experience more positive emotions had higher levels of serotonin. Lower levels of serotonin in adolescents led to a higher response to negative emotions as well as self-destructive behaviour.

  1. Reduces Stress Levels

Playing outdoors, especially in the natural environment, is believed to reduce cortisol levels, or in other words, the stress hormone in the brain. Many children are constantly exposed to stressful surroundings ranging from increasingly busy and noisy urban settings, pressure-laden classrooms, and bright, flashing screens. Classrooms have been known to bring about symptoms of depression and anxiety for children who are made to sit down all day. Outdoor play offers the best escape from all of this, and in turn, reduces the stress levels.

  1. Helps To Build Confidence

According to a recent study, just five minutes of ‘green exercise’ every day is enough to rapidly enhance mental well-being as well as self-esteem, mostly in young children. A first-hand experience of the outdoors and engaging of the children with nature promotes healthier and happy minds as well as improving cognitive development.

An extensive study by the Forest School revealed clear findings that being outdoors contributes to higher levels of well-being. Self-confidence is improved in children when they get the freedom, space and time to learn, grow and demonstrate their independence.

Encouraging outdoor play will certainly bring about huge differences to the mental, emotional and physical wellbeing of children. It’s time to switch off and go outside.

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