The Benefits of Outside Games for Kids: Boost Physical and Mental Health

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You hear it more and more recently, “kids don’t play outside anymore.” But with a shift towards being indoors instead of out, engaging with technology instead of nature, and sitting instead of moving, what exactly are kids missing out on? Research shows that children’s physical and mental health are both taking a toll. Encouraging outside games for kids is important in promoting their health and well being.

Physical Benefits of Active Play

Exercise is as important for kids as it is for adults. Physical activity is important for kids to have healthy bones, good physical fitness, and low levels of inflammation in the body. One study in children 7 to 11 years old, for example, found that breaking up continuous sitting with only 3 minutes of moderate walking every 30 minutes improved insulin functioning.[1]  Plus, being active helps kids socially and academically as well. Read more about some of the benefits of physical activity for kids in Active Body, Active Mind: Why Kids Need Recess.

So how can you make sure your child is getting enough activity? One of the best ways is to make sure they have plenty of outdoor time. Playing outside, with access to nature and green space, is particularly important for kids’ health.

Why Kids Need to Play Outdoors

Getting outdoors more is of the upmost importance for kids. A review on outdoor play published in June 2015 found that more outdoor time for children is related to higher levels of physical activity and reduced sedentary time, and it may also have benefits on measures of cardio-respiratory fitness.[2] Another study presented at the European Association for the Study of Diabetes on September 15, 2015 looked at data from 19,000 children. They found significant associations between obesity and low levels of access to green space, as well as not having a garden.[3] Specifically, they found that no garden access from ages three to five years old increased the risk for being overweight or obese at age seven by 35 percent. Low levels of green space raised the risk by 14 percent.[3]

Kids with ADHD can also benefit from tremendously from outdoor play in nature. One study found that “overall, green play settings were consistently linked with milder ADHD symptoms than non-green play settings.”[4]

Risk Taking is Good, Too

Is it good to let your kids climb way up high, go where you can’t see them, use tools, or play where they are exposed to elements like water or fire? These elements may be dangerous, and they may leave the risk for injury. And while this is certainly a personal parenting decision, it turns out that kids can benefit tremendously from these types of activities.

A review from June 2015 found that access to risky outdoor play was good for kids’ health, and it also encouraged things like creativity, social skills, and resilience. They found higher levels of physical activity, lower sedentary behavior, and improved social health, for example. Although certainly there were some risks to this type of play, the authors of the review conclude, “the findings overall suggest positive effects of risky outdoor play on health.”[5]

Adolescents Can Also Benefit from Childlike Play

Your teen might also do good to play more like a kid. A study in Metabolism: Clinical and Experimental found that when adolescents were active in much the same way kids play – in short bouts of high intensity activity, they saw improved blood sugar, fat metabolism, and blood pressure readings.[6]

Learn how higher levels of physical activity in teens may promote longevity here. Encourage your teen to get up and move every half an hour or so, even if just for a minute or two. Running to catch a Frisbee, racing around the yard, or playing a quick game of basketball could all do the trick.

Encourage Your Kid to Get Outdoors and Move More

There are many ways to get your kids outside more, whether you have a yard or not. Find nearby parks to visit as a family, where you can walk, practice sports, or play outside games for kids like hide and seek, tag, or capture the flag together. Find places with good playgrounds, where your kids can run, jump, climb, and balance.

Even if you don’t have time to go to the park, short bouts of outdoor play can work wonders too. Encourage regular breaks from homework, TV, chores, and other tasks with quick, five-minute trips outside for a few minutes of active time. You’ll notice the improvements in the mental and physical health of your children if you do.

Visit Natural Health Advisory Institute for more tips on raising healthy kids. Get started here:

1. How to Get Kids to Eat Vegetables: Use Repetition, Rewards, and Role Modeling

2. Watch for Signs of Dehydration in Children: Most Kids Don’t Drink Enough Water

3. Are Pesticides Bad for Kids? 2 Problems Caused by Pyrethroids


[1] J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2015 Aug 27:jc20152803. [Epub ahead of print]
[2] Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2015 Jun 8;12(6):6455-74.
[3] EASD Abstract. 2015 Sept 15.
[4] Applied Psychology: Health and Well-Being. 2011 Nov;3(3):281-303.
[5] Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2015 Jun 8;12(6):6423-54.
6. Metabolism. 2015 Sep;64(9):1068-76. .

Natural Health Advisory Institute contributing editorChelsea Clarkis a writer with a passion for science, human biology, and natural health. She holds a bachelor’s degree in molecular and cellular biology with an emphasis in neuroscience from the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma, Wash. Her research on the relationship between chronic headache pain and daily stress levels has been presented at various regional, national, and international conferences. Chelsea’s interest in natural health has been fueled by her own personal experience with chronic medical issues. Her many profound experiences with natural health practitioners and remedies have motivated Chelsea to contribute to the world of natural health as a researcher and writer forNatural Health Advisory Institute. Read all of Chelsea’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS postshere.

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