‘Go back to nature’, ‘get some fresh air’, ‘explore the great outdoors’ – the English language is full of phrases that reflect our intuitive understanding that immersing ourselves in nature is good for us.
We also know it’s great for our kids. From playing in the park to exploring woodland or combing the beach, nature is filled with opportunities for exercise, fun and adventure.
Perhaps that is why it is so surprising that three-quarters of children in the UK spend more time indoors than prison inmates. Yes, you read that right. In fact, one government report found that one in nine children had not visited a forest, beach or any other natural environment for at least a year.
Not only is this denying our children lots of opportunity for healthy outdoor activity, it also seems to be connected to kids’ health issues.
At least, that is the thinking of child advocacy expert, Richard Louv, whose book ‘Last Child in the Woods’ suggests that not spending enough time outdoors is linked to worrying childhood trends like obesity and depression. He calls the condition ‘nature deficit disorder’, but is getting out into nature really so important for our children’s health?
Nature’s health benefits
There have been many studies into the health benefits of a natural outdoor environment on human health.
A study at Japan’s Chiba University found that levels of the stress hormone cortisol, blood pressure and heart rate all reduced in subjects that walked around a forest as compared to a city environment.
Another study in Finland found that people living near forests or on farms had lower allergen sensitivity than individuals living in urban areas.
The implication is that a more biodiverse environment may enhance immune tolerance by creating a more diverse bacteria on human skin.
These studies show just how important it can be to get kids outdoors. Even if you live in an inner city area, you can head to arboretums and parks in your area or make a decision to spend more time in the countryside.
Go back to nature at home
You can also make the most of your garden by transforming it into a woodland space that is exciting for kids to explore and engage with.
A good example is this year’s RHS Back to Nature Garden at the Chelsea Flower Show. Co-designed by HRH The Duchess of Cambridge and landscape architects Andrée Davies and Adam White, this woodland garden explores the idea of play and enjoying the outdoor environment.
With a treehouse, swing seat and places to paddle, it is just the sort of space that kids would love to explore: a great idea for tackling any ‘nature deficit disorder’.