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How Do You Fight ‘Nature Deficit Disorder’?

couch potato

Turn that off and go outside!

The weather is turning colder and kids who get little outdoor exercise will soon be getting none at all.  At school, the short time allotted for recess will disappear completely due to freezing temperatures and soggy playgrounds.  At home, that warm spot in front of the television, the computer or a book will likely be more appealing than just about anything the frigid outdoors has to offer.

In other words, kids who tend to be couch potatoes anyway will soon have an excuse for avoiding outdoor activities altogether.  And this is not good.

According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, American kids aged 8 to 18 spend seven and a half hours per day using electronic media.  Add to that the hours spent in school and you’ve got very little time left over to spend outdoors being physically active.  And all this inactivity is having a detrimental effect on our kids’ physical and mental health.

Lack of exercise is contributing to the rising rates of obesity and related diseases in children and adults.  These so-called “diseases of indoor living” include Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, asthma, fatty liver disease, vitamin D deficiency, osteoporosis, stress, depression, attention deficit disorder and even myopia.

The problem is so great that the government, health insurers, physicians and naturalists have all banded together to help us overcome our sedentary habits.  And as As Dr. Daphne Miller, a family physician affiliated with the University of California, San Francisco, says, this is one initiative that won’t cost anyone a dime.

It’s a lot cheaper to go outside and move than it is to build gyms and a lot of hospitals.

But for someone like myself, who grew up in the city and never really learned to appreciate the great outdoors, just what to do out there can be something of a mystery.  Am I just supposed to run up and down the street?  Climb a tree?

In spite of my own indifference to outdoorsy stuff, I realize that I have a responsibility to get set an example for my child.  How can I expect her to embrace nature if I won’t go out there myself? And right now, before the winter doldrums get the best of both of us, I am thinking about how to make this winter an active one.

There is some advice to be had out there.  As part of their “Green Hour” campaign, The National Wildlife Federation offers tips on where to go and what to do outdoors as a family.  And President Obama has gotten involved with his “America’s Great Outdoors Initiative.”

But tell me – what are you doing?  How do you get your kids – and yourself – off the couch and out the door when it’s cold outside?

Image:  stars alive/Flickr

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