Skip to main content
Family Files

Reconnect with the world outside for optimal health

After being stuck inside from a bad winter, we often say things like, "I'm suffering from cabin fever", or after being inside all day we might say, "I need some fresh air." As usual, there is some truth to these familiar sayings that we have heard passed down from generation to generation. I hope that with it being summer, we do not find ourselves saying them.

Our bodies crave the outdoors, and when we are stuck inside too much, we really can have diminished health. This reduced health may not result in an actual fever, but there are other health impacts from not enough time spent outside.

Research has shown that there are health and familial benefits to time spent in nature. In 2016, the Nielsen Company reported that US adults spend an average of 10 hours and 39 minutes a day staring at a screen, and the average child spends seven hours/day on electronic media. Richard Louv, the author of Last Child in the Woods, shares that the more high-tech we are as a society, the more nature we actually need for our health. He even created the term "nature deficit disorder" to depict "a diminished ability to find meaning in the life that surrounds us."

Research has shown that for children, play outside supports creativity and problem solving. Nature based education can improve academic performance in math, social studies and language arts. Children who are taught to grow their own food are more likely to eat fruits and vegetables. Contact with nature can prove quite beneficial for children with ADD by reducing some of their symptoms.

Lately there has been a rise in children presenting with sensory deficits. Less outdoor time on uneven surfaces and exploring different terrains is causing kids to have more balance issues because they have not had the practice to adjust. When they do not explore their surroundings by skipping, running, climbing and twirling their bodies, kids do not learn how to manage their bodies in relationship to space. They can also have adverse reactions to the feel of objects in nature such as grass, sand, mud and others things they are not exposed to regularly.

There is national support for more time spent in nature. Currently there is a bill being proposed called the Every Kid Outdoors Act that would grant free entry to National Parks for all fourth graders in the United States. Additionally, we need to be role models for how much time we spend in front of screens and on technology versus how much time we spend outside.

We have heard a lot about the Vitamin D that we all are exposed to while spending time outside. But did you know that by spending a mere 30 minutes or more each week at a local park, people have reduced their risk of having high blood pressure and poor mental health? There is also a correlation between lower chances of suffering from depression, obesity, ADHD, heart disease and cancer. Our own researcher, Ming Kuo, from University of Illinois has compared spending time outside to taking a multivitamin to help keep the body disease free.

The Department of Human Development and Family Studies at U of I is currently broadening the research available in the area of family-based nature activities. They have found that participation in nature can serve as a means for positive family functioning, more so than other types of recreation settings. To learn more about their findings you can learn more by visiting If you are interested in participating in this project, you can send in a photo of you enjoying the outdoors to or you can post it to social media with the hashtag #GetOutside.

Get outside and read outdoors on your porch or in a nearby park. Get moving, take a walk and get some fresh air. Plan a picnic or barbecue with your neighbors or family. Go outside at night and look at the stars and notice the fireflies. Play catch or enjoy the beauty of a garden or park. We have so many beautiful local, county, and state parks, as well as a national forest in our state there are plenty of places to take in the beauty of nature and reap the health benefits. This does not have to cost you money, but it is worth your time, health and effort to get outside.