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Kids Thrive in Nature

Nature play for children improves physical and mental fitness.

Exercise in nature for kids

Many adults have fond memories of meandering in meadows or weaving through local forests when they were children. It turns out that playing in nature positively affects physical and mental development in children, according to a recent review of 16 studies involving a total of 711 healthy children ages 2–12 from various locations worldwide.

University of South Australia researchers in Adelaide conducted the systematic review to evaluate evidence that might support the claim that playing in nature benefits child health and development. Concerns are arising as, anecdotally, fewer children worldwide are playing outdoors and more are choosing, instead, to play with electronic devices inside the confines of a house.

“Nature play” is defined as unstructured, nature-based activity in environments the include such elements as plants, rocks, mud, sand, gardens, forest, and ponds or other water. Study authors determined that nature play provides multiple physical conditioning benefits and is even more advantageous for cognitive development, as it allows for imaginative play. While studies did not report statistical significance, nature play appears to boost learning; support social and emotional development; and improve attention, concentration, and constructive, social and functional play in children.

The study is available in PLOS ONE (2020; doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0229006).


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Shirley Archer-Eichenberger, JD, MA

Shirley Archer, JD, MA, is an internationally acknowledged integrative health and mindfulness specialist, best-selling author of 16 fitness and wellness books translated into multiple languages and sold worldwide, award-winning health journalist, contributing editor to Fitness Journal, media spokesperson, and IDEA's 2008 Fitness Instructor of the Year. She's a 25-year industry veteran and former health and fitness educator at the Stanford Prevention Research Center, who has served on multiple industry committees and co-authored trade books and manuals for ACE, ACSM and YMCA of the USA. She has appeared on TV worldwide and was a featured trainer on America's Next Top Model.

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