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Writing Prescriptions for Kids to Play Outdoors

By Sandy Schroeder

We live in an ever-changing world, but a recent story in the New York Times really showed how much it has changed as it explored the subject of doctors writing prescriptions for kids to play outside.

Stepping back in time, kids played outside, after school, and all summer long. They swam in pools, biked around the neighborhood or played baseball, basketball or soccer. Then screens changed everything. Extended time playing video games, watching movies or sports, and checking online sites kept kids indoors a lot more.

How the Prescriptions Work

Perri Klass, MD, takes a look at this issue of kids not getting enough outdoor time, and the resulting prescriptions.  Dr. Robert Zarr, a Washington D.C. pediatrician, founded Park Rx America, a nonprofit that helps doctors prescribe parks for kids’ health. The website enables a doctor to search for parks near a child’s home to write a specific prescription of activities for a local park.

Dr. Zarr said the two most frequent prescription targets are overweight kids and stressed-out depressed teens. Zarr asked these kids what they like to do outside, and then writes a prescription. If they like soccer or hiking, he might prescribe weekly games or regular outings.

Dr Zarr said prescribing parks for kids is “probably more common sense than rocket science.” It is also grounded in the growing amount of scientific research that says spending time outside is good for the mind and the body. Other researchers say time spent outside is especially effective in helping the brain recover from looking at too many screens.

Outdoor Play

Most parents agree with the idea of outdoor play, but they may worry about exposure to strangers or possible physical dangers like being bitten by a spider or falling out of a tree. It’s natural for them to hover as their kids learn to navigate the risks.

 “Clearly there are going to be risks, but the risks of not going outdoors and continuing the pattern of 90 percent indoors is going to kill us,” said Capt. Sarah Newman, director of public health for the National Park Service.

If we look closely, most of us might agree with the goal of outdoor prescriptions for kids. Overweight kids of all ages, depressed teens, and families that never sit down to dinner together or spend the weekend camping or hiking, are all fairly common occurrences in our culture. Outdoor prescriptions may be one more way to get everybody off of their screens and outdoors more.

To learn more about your health, wellness, and fitness, see your local chiropractor at The Joint Chiropractic in Atlanta, Ga.

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