from Dr Sam Wass, Family Psychologist for Yakult
With lockdown restrictions easing, exploring the outdoors with family and friends and reaping the mental and physical benefits will be on the agenda for many this spring and summer.
Spending time outdoors as a family has many benefits – from reducing stress, anxiety and depression, to improving attention and learning. For example, satellite data has shown associations between the amount of green space around a family home and children’s attention and learning abilities. Another study found that replacing paved areas with green play spaces led to improvements in school performance. A third study found that even a 20-minute walk in a natural environment led to improvements in attention and learning in children.
It is more important than ever for families to make the most of nature, after the social and physical restrictions of the past year.
To help, Dr Sam Wass, Family Psychologist for Yakult has shared his top tips for spending more time outside together as a family – from the best time of day to head out, to motivating less willing family members and not being put off by the weather.
- Timing is key
Everybody’s mood and energy has different patterns. Some people are energetic in the morning, others at night. But it also depends on what they’ve been doing. For example, straight after playing a computer game, or watching violent TV, can be a time when your body or your kids’ bodies really ‘need’ to run around. There is evidence that these activities can shift our bodies into ‘fight or flight’ mode – the brain senses the imaginary danger but doesn’t know that it’s imaginary – so it readies the body to respond to actual real danger. And one of the things that happens in ‘fight or flight’ mode is that we get lots of energy released into the muscles. So straight after watching screens is a great time to go outside – to run all that pent up energy off.
- Think about what’s in it for them
Research suggests that trying to push something onto other members of the family can immediately put them off it. So rather than turning a potential trip outdoors into ‘what you want’ vs ‘what they want’, try to think instead about what’s in it for them. For example, your children naturally have higher energy than adults. So taking your children somewhere where they can run as much as they want, bash into things, and not get told off for making lots of noise, is often a motivation in itself. Time spent outdoors helps everybody calm down – and everybody likes to feel calm and relaxed. So then that becomes part of the motivation, too!
- Follow their interests
Some people worry about their long-term health, but others especially children, live in the moment and don’t think about the long-term at all. So lecturing them about long-term benefits can be a turn-off. Instead, try to think – what are they most interested in? How do I make it motivating to them? Many people, even older family members, love animals – and going on a trip to visit some horses can be enough of a reason to get off the sofa. Others might love tree climbing, or being on the water, or building dens. And if you’re really desperate, then Pokémon Go always puts lots of Pokémons hiding in the woods. Running around outdoors still has benefits!
- Make outdoors feel like indoors
One of the reasons why many people prefer indoors to outdoors is just simply because indoors feels more like home. Any way to personalise an outdoor space can help to make it feel more comfortable, and familiar, and safe – even if it’s the woods and not your garden, then it’s often worth encouraging your family to build something that they can come back to, time after time. Like a swing, or a den, or damming a stream, or planting something – or anything else that takes their fancy. You’ll be amazed by how much of a difference that makes to how much you want to come back again!
- There’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing
Everybody needs the mental and physical benefits that come from being outdoors even more strongly in the winter than they do in the summer. Which is why it’s particularly important not to let bad weather be an excuse. Invest in clothes so that everybody in the family is comfortably warm and dry in all weather. People often love getting dressed up – so the more fun you can make their cold and wet weather gear, the better!
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