Inside Nation

Teresa Madaleno

Inside Nation

Research by Planet Ark shows that Australia’s outdoor life is fading fast. Kids in Australia are spending less time in the backyard as adults spend more hours at the office. So why does it matter? Australia is renowned for its outdoor way of life but even more important, fresh air is good for you.

The startling research indicates that the laid-back outdoor culture Aussies always pride themselves on is being eroded by kids who are playing on screen rather than outside, as well as by parents who spend more time at work than at home. For every hour kids spend outside, they spend over seven hours in front of screens watching television or playing on the internet. An estimated one in three people spend less than eighteen minutes per day doing outdoor recreational activities. Backyard pastimes like playing cricket and having barbecues are fading away due to changing lifestyles.

Previous research by Planet Ark, a well known organization that supports individuals and businesses that want to reduce their day-to-day environmental impact showed that there was a benefit to childhood contact with nature. Years ago studies around the globe, including those conducted at Harvard Medical School suggested that spending time outdoors had great health benefits. Research revealed that fresh air does the following:

  • Aids in digestion
  • Strengthens our immune system
  • Cleans our lungs
  • Improves our blood pressure
  • Sharpens our mind

This trend of sitting around indoors is not confined to Australia. Researchers affiliated with the World Health Organization have reported that the total combined weight of human beings on earth is now well over 287 million tons, partly due to lack of activity; sitting around the house. However, while the focus should be on health educators encouraging people to get outside, breathe in fresh air, and get active, they admit the problem is that fresh air in many cities is hard to come by. Physicians contend, if you have a problem with blood pressure, asthma or other underlying health issues, you should avoid any outdoor pollution and stay inside where there is a decent supply of air. Dirty environments force the body to work harder to get the amount of oxygen it needs.

In the case of inhaling fresh air, it helps our lungs to dilate more and improves the cleansing action of our lungs. This means when we exhale and breathe out through our lungs, we release airborne toxins from our body. This sounds great, but many cities and towns can’t seem to escape smog days so the opposite actually occurs – our lungs are filled with toxins as we step outside and breathe in the not-so-fresh air. In 2010 for example, the California community of Riverside had no fewer than one-hundred and ten smog days.

Avoiding the outdoors can’t go on forever. You have likely heard about the rise in vitamin D deficiency. Vitamin D occurs naturally in a few foods such as fish, eggs and fortified milk but our best source of vitamin D comes from sunshine. Today doctors are saying kids are also growing up with a lack of “vitamin G”… in other words, healthy green-space. There are many reasons we need to encourage our kids to get up and get outside but until the outside is truly green, health officials say they will find it hard to plead their case to those on the inside.