Spending time outdoors as a family has a lot to offer - from reducing stress, anxiety and depression(1), to improving attention and learning. For example, satellite data has shown associations between the amount of green space around a family home and children’s attention and learning abilities(2). Another study found that replacing paved areas with green play spaces led to improvements in school performance(3). A third study found that even a 20-minute walk in a natural environment led to improvements in attention and learning in children(4).
It is more important than ever for families to make the most of nature, after the social and physical restrictions of the past year. One in eight households across the UK has no access to a garden(5). We also know that children are likely to be more affected than adults by being cut off from outdoor space(6). The effects of city life on children’s stress levels, attention and learning have been documented in children as young as 12 months(7).
To help families enjoy all the wellbeing benefits of getting outdoors, Yakult has launched its Outdoor Fun and Wellbeing campaign.
Yakult has teamed up with Jo Schofield and Fiona Danks, environmental education practitioners and authors (www.goingwild.net), to create six outdoor activity ideas, which can be downloaded for free from the Yakult website here. Each exercise is rooted in nature, supported by science and most importantly – fun! The resources are designed for families with primary school aged children, but can also be adapted for children of other ages. The six activities – ‘Shadow Goblins and Giants’, ‘Cloud Collecting’, ‘Magical Mud’, ‘Nectar Café’, ‘Ready Steady Bioblitz’ and ‘Rainy Day Activities’ – cover topics from the sun, shadows and vitamin D, to rain, mud and wildlife. Families can download the resources for free here.
Yakult has also teamed up with Family Psychologist Dr Sam Wass to share top tips for spending more time together outside with friends and family, including the three below.
1 Timing is key
Everybody’s mood and energy has different patterns. Some people are energetic in the morning, others at night(8). But it also depends on what they’ve been doing. For example, straight after playing a computer game, or watching action-packed TV, can be a time when your body or your kids’ bodies really ‘need’ to run around. There is evidence(9) that these activities can shift our bodies into ‘fight or flight’ mode - the brain senses the imaginary danger but doesn’t know that it’s imaginary – so it readies the body to respond to actual real danger. And one of the things that happens in ‘fight or flight’ mode is that we get lots of energy released into the muscles(10). So straight after watching screens is a great time to go outside – to run all that pent up energy off.
2 Think about what’s in it for them
Research suggests that trying to push something onto other members of the family can immediately put them off it(11). So rather than turning a potential trip outdoors into ‘what you want’ vs ‘what they want’, try to think instead about what’s in it for them. For example, your children naturally have higher energy than adults(12). So taking your children somewhere where they can run as much as they want, bash into things, and not get told off for making lots of noise, is often a motivation in itself. Time spent outdoors helps everybody calm down(13) – and everybody likes to feel calm and relaxed. So then that becomes part of the motivation too!
3 Follow their interests
Some people worry about their long-term health, but others especially children, live in the moment and don’t think about the long-term at all. So lecturing them about long-term benefits can be a turn-off. Instead, try to think – what are they most interested in? How do I make it motivating to them? Many people, even older family members, love animals – and going on a trip to visit some horses can be enough of a reason to get off the sofa. Others might love tree climbing, or being on the water, or building dens. And if you’re really desperate, then Pokémon Go always puts lots of Pokémon hiding in the woods. Running around outdoors still has benefits!
So, this spring and summer, download Yakult’s free resources and take a read of Dr Sam Wass’s tips and enjoy all the benefits the great outdoors has to offer!
1 Scientific evidence shows that, in adults and children raised in urban settings, most mental health outcomes are worse: stress, anxiety and depression are all higher in adults and children raised in cities and motivation is lower. Evans, G. W. (2006). Child development and the physical environment. Annu. Rev. Psychol., 57, 423-451. Evans, G. W. (2003). The built environment and mental health. Journal of Urban Health, 80(4), 536-555.
2 Dadvand, P., Pujol, J., Macià, D., Martínez-Vilavella, G., Blanco-Hinojo, L., Mortamais, M., ... & López-Vicente, M. (2018). The association between lifelong greenspace exposure and 3-dimensional brain magnetic resonance imaging in Barcelona schoolchildren. Environmental health perspectives, 126(2), 027012.
3 van Dijk-Wesselius, J. E., Maas, J., Hovinga, D., van Vugt, M., & van den Berg, A. E. (2018). The impact of greening schoolyards on the appreciation, and physical, cognitive and social-emotional well-being of schoolchildren: A prospective intervention study. Landscape and Urban Planning, 180(July), 15–26.
4 Schutte, A. R., Torquati, J. C., & Beattie, H. L. (2017). Impact of Urban Nature on Executive Functioning in Early and Middle Childhood. Environment and Behavior, 49(1), 3–30.
6 Wells, N. M. (2000). At home with nature: Effects of “greenness” on children’s cognitive functioning. Environment and behavior, 32(6), 775-795.
7Wells, N. M. (2000). At home with nature: Effects of “greenness” on children’s cognitive functioning. Environment and behavior, 32(6), 775-795.
8 Larsen, R. J. (1985). Individual differences in circadian activity rhythm and personality. Personality and Individual Differences, 6(3), 305-311.
9 Gentile, D. A., Bender, P. K., & Anderson, C. A. (2017). Violent video game effects on salivary cortisol, arousal, and aggressive thoughts in children. Computers in Human Behavior, 70, 39-43.
10 Cacioppo, J. T., Tassinary, L. G., & Berntson, G. (Eds.). (2007). Handbook of psychophysiology. Cambridge university press.
11 Henderlong J and Lepper MR. 2002. The effects of praise on children’s intrinsic motivation: A review and synthesis. Psychological Bulletin 128(5): 774-795.
12 Wass, S. V. (2018). How orchids concentrate? The relationship between physiological stress reactivity and cognitive performance during infancy and early childhood. Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews, 90, 34-49.
13 Kondo, M. C., Jacoby, S. F., & South, E. C. (2018). Does spending time outdoors reduce stress? A review of real-time stress response to outdoor environments. Health & place, 51, 136-150.