Why Getting Outside Changes Everything
Nearly 15 years ago I was diagnosed with cancer. Although shuffling in a hospital gown [with drip-line in-tow]replaced my trail running; hanging out in the shallow-end of the pool replaced open water swims; and mild yoga replaced hard strength training, I knew that outdoor recreation would be the foundation of my recovery and well-being. Fifteen years later, after an intense day in the office, I head to the mountains to “blow out the carbon.” The temperature is cool and blossoming wild flowers sparkle against the brilliant blue sky. After a few hours of hiking my favorite ridgeline, I drive home with renewed vigor—outdoor recreation is my wellness prescription.
Unfortunately, at a meteoric pace, we are creating a new generation of children who have a combined lack of interest in outdoor recreation, a precipitous drop in health and a dearth of skill needed to regain their health through outdoor recreation pursuits. This bleak new phenomenon is called “the indoor child.”
The average American child now spends 7 hours and 38 minutes per day watching TV and playing video games. Sadly, this indoor child is in a deadly spiral—experiencing a dramatic increase in chronic disease which leads to an increase in sedentary behavior, leading to further declines in health and vitality. According to a recent report by the American Medical Association, nearly one-third (27%) of our children are diagnosed with a chronic disease (e.g. asthma, diabetes, obesity). In Utah, this rate equates to 230,000 children with diagnosed with a disease and 60,000 children diagnosed with a disability (14%).
With significantly compromised health, and a declining interest in preserving the natural environment, increasing outdoor recreation is an enormous lifestyle change for the indoor child, which provides endless benefits. Escalating evidence reveals that a lack of outdoor recreation among children leads to depression, hyperactivity, obesity and a reduction in critical thinking, creativity and social skills. Alternatively, participation in outdoor recreation helps form friendships, develops social skills, establishes identity and meaning in life. Recreating outdoors also enhances overall health through increased strength, bone mineral density and vital capacity.
Thankfully, Utah’s world-class national parks and famous sport and recreation venues can help you easily add vital recreation to children’s lives. Branded as “Life Elevated” and “The State of Sport,” 80% of Utah’s land is administered for recreation use, which includes more than 100 bodies of boatable water, 14 ski resorts, 10 permanent Olympic sports venues, nine white water rivers, eight national parks and recreation areas and seven national forests.
To help you take advantage of these resources, there are many organizations and outfitters designed to introduce and guide children and families into the outdoors. Splore is one organization that recently received funding from the U.S. Forest Service to: “support conservation education programs that will provide local community children more opportunities to experience the great outdoors, learn about nature and build a lasting commitment to conservation and land stewardship.”
Using Utah’s vast recreation resources, Splore offers affordable, customized and inclusive recreation and education programs for people of all abilities. For 33 years, Splore has been the leader in adaptive adventure recreation and education for youth and adults with disabilities, chronic health conditions, functional limitations and special health care needs. As the only adaptive recreation organization in Utah that holds exclusive federal special use guide permits, Splore offers many seasonal activities, including: camping, canoeing, indoor and outdoor rock climbing, kayaking, Nordic skiing, snowshoeing and white water rafting. For thousands of kids each year, these adventures act as a catalyst towards greater joy, courage, health and community. For more information about Splore programs and to sign up, visit: splore.org.
To stem the tide of this ensuing disaster, encourage your family and community to unplug this summer. For more information on Children and Nature, visit the National Wildlife Federation’s Be Out There campaign: nwf.org/Get-Outside/Be-Out-There.aspx. And check out the Utah Guides and Outfitters Association: www.utah-adventures.com/outfitters.cfm.
Dr. John Librett is Executive Director of Splore and Founder & Interim Director of Association of Adaptive Recreation Organizations. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.