Thursday, November 4, 2010

Send the kids outside to play

By Richard P. Holm M.D.

Last night at a lecture about the value of education in Afghanistan, the speaker told us of kids growing up surrounded by war, without being able to play outside safely. He said kids throughout the rest of the world need to step away from their computers and TV sets, and exercise their freedom by going outside to play. The place erupted in applause.

This simple statement is supported by a recent “Move Muscles” or 2M study we did with first to fifth grade children. It was a combined effort by staff at the Brookings Boys and Girls club, researchers from SDSU, South Dakota med students, and the SD Internal Medicine organization, the ACP. We found pedometer and activity readings were greater when children were simply encouraged to have free-play, as compared to organized activity, or screen time.

For as long as humans have lived, until now, kids have been encouraged to go outside and play. As a kid growing up in DeSmet, I was outside for all four seasons. I remember jumping into piles of leaves, building snow forts for ferocious snowball fights, floating stick rafts down melting snow gutter-rivers, and biking everywhere.

But things have changed. Now we drive our kids to school to sit and listen all day to people talking, they watch while a few athletes compete in a game of some kind, and then they come home to play video games of action heroes, while they sit on a couch eating high caloric snacks. Unless something changes, this generation of kids will grow up to be adults who drive to work while they earn money sitting in an office, and who have labor-saving devices do the work while they continue to sit and watch other people play.

It is easy to understand why there is an epidemic of obesity and diabetes; why adult joints are so stiff and immobile; and why life expectancy in this country is dropping. Simply put, people will die and are dying young from diseases of inactivity and this problem is only getting worse.

We could do something to change this deadly trend if we would simply send our kids outside to play.

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