As a child, I built a wonderful bond with Mother Nature. Whether I was climbing her tall trees or rolling down her grassy hills, nature was always fun, carefree, and supportive of my need for exploration. Although she had her cold spells and rainy days, I considered Mother Nature as my confidant, play-mate, and one of my favourite educators. She taught me how to be curious, how to problem-solve and how to appreciate life's simple pleasures. With no strict schedules or regimented routines, my parents encouraged my friendship with Mother Nature by telling me to "go outside and play" on a daily basis. Crisp fresh air, warm sunlight, and the vibrance of outdoor life not only invigorated my sense of imagination but also enhanced my growth, development and love for physical activity.
Nowadays, when I look at the empty playgrounds and parks near my house, I can tell a lot has changed since my childhood. Heck, I bet my unstructured youth is unrecognizable in the eyes of most 21st century parents. When you look outside, what do you see? I know what I don't see: children jumping rope, playing tag or running around in packs until they are summoned home for family dinner. So, where have all the children gone?
My educated guess -- they are inside studying, completing extra tutoring sessions, participating in organized sports, watching television or glued to the latest iPad game. David Bond's film, Project Wild Thing, cites fear, technology, and the commercialization of play as reasons why kids have become so disconnected from the natural world.
ParticipACTION, a nation-wide event, is urging parents to rethink their stance on outdoor play and to motivate their children to become more physically active. Research shows children who receive greater parental support for physical activity are more likely to be active for at least 60 minutes per day. In a nation where 93 per cent of our children are not active enough to meet the Canadian Physical Activity guidelines and 26 per cent are overweight or obese, Mother Nature pleads:
Be a healthy role model. If you show your kids that you find enjoyment in being active, getting outside, and making physical activity a daily routine they will be more likely to mirror these healthy actions. Walking or cycling to work, going on nightly walks or joining a league, can show your kids the importance of maintaining good health and how engaging physical activity can be.
Limit screen time. Video games, cell phones, television, and other tech-innovations are keeping children indoors. If you're inside all day, you're less likely to move around and more likely to gain weight. Childhood obesity is on the rise and has no signs of slowing down any time soon. The results of new studies indicate that children's weight is influenced by whether they have active video games and if there is a television in the bedroom. Although it may be difficult to break out of this routine, efforts to reduce screen time work better when children understand how too much technology is affecting their health. So, talk to your kids and let them ask questions about screen time, in order for them to learn how to get healthier!
Encourage the trial (and error) of new outdoor things. Most kids love playing and being outside. Recently, my middle son wanted to try fishing so we are now trying to find a fishing friend as no on in my family have ever done it before. It will be an adventure for all of us! Encouraging children to try new things is important for their self-esteem and risk-taking skills. Although your child may not like every activity or sport they try, error can help kids discover their identity and enhance their sense of adventure.
It is clear -- parental role modelling, limits, guidance, and encouragement is essential for children to establish a love and routine for daily outdoor activity. Since Spring has finally sprung, there is no better time than the present, to restore and encourage balance and friendship with Mother Nature. Let's tell our children what my parents always told me...GO OUTSIDE AND PLAY!
ALSO ON HUFFPOST:
According to the Center For Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/01/17/childhood-obesity-linked-health-problems_n_2497054.html" target="_blank">17% (or 12.5 million) of kids and adolescents aged 2 - 19</a> years in the United States are now obese.
<a href="http://www.letsmove.gov/sites/letsmove.gov/files/Let_s_Move_Child_Care_Fact_Sheet.pdf" target="_blank">The rate</a> among this age group <a href="http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/hestat/obesity_child_07_08/obesity_child_07_08.htm" target="_blank">increased</a> from 5% to 10.4% in 1976-1980 and 2007-2008.
<a href="http://www.cdc.gov/healthyyouth/obesity/facts.htm" target="_blank">Obese kids are more likely to also be obese as adults</a>, which <a href="http://www.letsmove.gov/sites/letsmove.gov/files/Let_s_Move_Child_Care_Fact_Sheet.pdf" target="_blank">puts them at risk</a> for heart disease, diabetes, and more adult health problems.
These kids are even <a href="http://www.cdc.gov/healthyyouth/obesity/facts.htm" target="_blank">more likely</a> to <a href="http://www.letsmove.gov/sites/letsmove.gov/files/Let_s_Move_Child_Care_Fact_Sheet.pdf" target="_blank">become obese adults</a>.
<a href="http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/hestat/obesity_child_07_08/obesity_child_07_08.htm" target="_blank">CDC data</a> shows that there was an increase in the pervasiveness of obesity in the American population between 1976-1980 and then again from 1999-2000, the prevalence of obesity increased.
Obesity in <a href="http://www.cdc.gov/media/pressrel/2009/r090723.htm" target="_blank">low-income 2- to 4-year-olds</a> rose from 12.4% of the population in 1998 to 14.5% in 2003 but increased to 14.6% in 2008.
And only 25% of kids in this age group get the recommended three daily serving of vegetables. One way to make sure your child gets the <a href="http://www.letsmove.gov/sites/letsmove.gov/files/Let_s_Move_Child_Care_Fact_Sheet.pdf" target="_blank">amount of fruit and vegetables that they need</a> is to serve them at every meal.
<a href="http://www.cdc.gov/healthyyouth/physicalactivity/facts.htm" target="_blank">In 2011, only 29% of high-schoolers</a> in a survey participated in 60 minutes of physical activity each day, which is the amount recommended by the CDC. <a href="http://www.cdc.gov/physicalactivity/everyone/guidelines/children.html" target="_blank">It’s best for kids to get three different types of exercise</a>: aerobic activity, like walking or running, muscle strengthening activities like push-ups or pull-ups and bone strengthening activities like jumping rope.
High blood pressure, diabetes and other cardiovascular issues have been previously tied to obesity. But <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/01/17/childhood-obesity-linked-health-problems_n_2497054.html?utm_hp_ref=childhood-obesity" target="_blank">a 2013 study</a> found that obesity also puts kids at risk for other health issues such as ADHD, allergies and ear infections.
This<a href="http://www.ftc.gov/os/2008/07/P064504foodmktingreport.pdf" target="_blank"> number was documented by the FTC in 2008</a>.<a href="http://www.apa.org/topics/kids-media/food.aspx" target="_blank"> According to the APA</a>, there are strong associations between the increase in junk food advertising to kids and the climbing rate of childhood obesity.
<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/01/17/childhood-obesity-linked-health-problems_n_2497054.html" target="_blank">Childhood Obesity Linked To Wide Range Of Health Problems </a> <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/04/09/healthy-weight-kids-strict-lunch_n_3045355.html?utm_hp_ref=childhood-obesity" target="_blank">Healthy Weight In Kids Tied To Strict School Lunch Standards </a> <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/03/28/kids-meals-fail-nutrition-test_n_2969810.html?utm_hp_ref=childhood-obesity" target="_blank">Kids' Meals At Major Chains Fail Nutrition Test</a>
Follow Dr. Shimi Kang on Twitter: www.twitter.com/drshimikang