Time Indoors – How Much Is Too Much?

people-eyes-playing-youngWith many of the things kids like to do these days connected to a wall plug, asking them to play outside is sometimes met with resistance. Parents are doing their duty, however, by standing their ground and insisting on more outside time for kids, as the benefits of outside time are many and varied.

If our cuddly couch potatoes get their way every time, they might find out first hand some of the increasing problems associated with indoor, sedentary lifestyles that are becoming better understood by scientists every day. Most recently, Bristol University academics released results of a study connecting insufficient outside time and higher rates of myopia (short-sightedness). The stereotypical bookworm with glasses look has been seen in schools for decades now, but it is not the strain of excessive reading doing the damage to kids’ eyes. The recent study findings indicate it is the lack of natural light that is to blame.

So, what exactly were the parameters that defined if a child was getting enough outside time each day or not? 14,000 children who were a part of the study were classed in two groups. Those who spent more than three hours a day outside in summer and more than one hour a day outside in winter were classed as having a ‘high’ amount of outside time. Those with less than that were said to have a ‘low’ amount of time outside.

When we consider our children are in school for around seven hours a day, it seems clear that the lunch time opportunity for outside play is not enough. That hour also needs to be supplemented with a further two hours of play in the backyard after school, for them to be outdoors long enough to give some protection against developing short-sightedness. There are other factors at play too, of course, with heredity playing their part in the probabilities. However, it seems that less time than that outside will not do them any favours, even if they are tired, or their favourite show is on, or they have “earned some screen time” with a long day at school.

Interestingly, the study also indicates the time outdoors is more impacting on vision outcomes than activity level. From that it follows children who are a bit low on energy can probably just plop down on the grass outside and still reap benefits. If they have a book, they’d like to take with them, even better.