Vitality

Kids Will Be Kids: Children Who Participate In Risky Outdoor Behavior Have Better Physical And Mental Health

Risky Outdoor Behavior
Children who participate in risky outdoor behavior are healthier. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock

Children who lead a rough and tumble lifestyle tend to have parents with a great deal of trepidation. Every parent, teacher, or caregiver knows when caution is thrown to the wind things tend to get a little dangerous. While many parents don’t approve of too much horseplay, the unhealthy side effects of physical inactivity are pretty well-defined. A recent study conducted at the University of British Columbia has found that risky outdoor play can improve a child’s physical and mental health.

"We found that play environments where children could take risks promoted increased play time, social interactions, creativity, and resilience," Mariana Brussoni, assistant professor in UBC's School of Population and Public Health and Department of Pediatrics, said in a statement. "These positive results reflect the importance of supporting children's risky outdoor play opportunities as a means of promoting children's health and active lifestyles."

Brussoni and her colleagues examined the relationship between risky outdoor horseplay and childhood health using 21 relevant papers. Children who participate in horseplay outside of the house not only increase the amount of time they spend participating in physical activity, but it also led to better social skills and creativity.

With its trees, plants, wildlife, changes in height, and freedom to roam, playgrounds and other outdoor public locations offer children a place to be more physically active and work on their social development. Obviously, playground safety standards and too much supervision from a parent or guardian often prevent children from participating in risky outdoor behavior.

"These spaces give children a chance to learn about risk and learn about their own limits," Brussoni added. "Monitoring children's activities may be a more appropriate approach than active supervision, particularly for older children. We recommend considering policy, practice, and built environment approaches to risky outdoor play that balance safety with children's other health outcomes."

The Department of Health and Human Services recommends that Americans between the ages of 6 and 17 participate in at least 60 minutes of exercise a day. However, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, only 27.1 percent of high school students participated in at least 60 minutes of exercise on all seven days leading up to the Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance survey in 2013.

Exercising regularly helps build and maintain healthy bones and muscles and reduces our risk for developing obesity and other chronic diseases, such as diabetes, heart disease, and certain types of cancer. It can also reduce feelings of depression and anxiety. Research has shown that it can improve factors that influence a student’s academic performance, including concentration and attentiveness.

Source: Gibbons R, Gray C, Brussoni M, et al. What is the Relationship between Risky Outdoor Play and Health in Children? A Systematic Review. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. 2015. 

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