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Dr. Ayala

Dr. Ayala
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA
V.P. Product Development
Herbal Water
I’m a physician (Pediatrics and Medical Genetics), artist, and mother of 3 school age active kids. I recently co-founded Herbal Water Inc. (www.herbalwater.com) with my husband, Albert. I am a serious home cook, and love to entertain. My expertise is vegetarian food (I have been a vegetarian all my life). I strongly believe that eating healthy and enjoying good food go hand in hand. My main interests are science, nutrition and art, and I am overall a very curious person that tries to learn something new every day. Dr. Ayala (Ayala Laufer-Cahana M.D.)


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MAY 2, 2012 9:21AM

Preschoolers suffering nature and exercise deficits

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A happy day, I think, is one in which some time is spent outdoors.

Dog owners take their dogs out daily, and pediatricians suggest we extend the same kindness to our kids.

No, seriously, kids need the outdoors quite critically. Outdoors translates to physical activity and fitness, and the more time kids spend outdoors the less likely they are to become obese. Kids don’t exercise in gyms; they have bursts of intense, vigorous, heart racing activity while playing in a large open space, when they’re chasing a friend or a squirrel, or repeatedly going up and down a slide. Playing outdoors also helps kids’ development and growth and does wonders to their vision, coordination, vitamin D levels and mood!

Experts say that free play — especially outdoors — is crucial to a kid's health, but chances to play outside have been on the decline over the past few decades. Busy lives, over anxiety about safety, screen based entertainment and lack of awareness are keeping kids indoors.

Not enough outdoors time

A new study in the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine looked at the frequency at which parents took their kids to play outside. The authors, led by Pooja Tandon, used a nationally representative sample of about 9,000 4-year-olds, whose parents were asked how often they took their kid out to play. 

They found that about half of the preschoolers were taken out by their parents daily.

Is another caregiver taking these kids out? Possibly — daycares are supposed to take kids out. But even among the 20 percent of children in the study who didn’t attend any day care or preschool at all, only 58 percent went outside daily with mom or dad.

Is safety the issue?  

An important barrier to spending time outdoors could be perceived or actual concern for safety. This study found that the vast majority of parents thought that their neighborhood was either very safe (58 percent) or fairly safe (35 percent), with just 5 percent assessing their area as fairly unsafe and only 2 percent as very unsafe. So dangerous neighborhoods were not the issue.

Has TV replaced playing outdoors? The researchers found that the 4-year-olds in the study spent almost 4 hours a day in front of a screen — which is a lot, and almost double the (generous) American Academy of Pediatrics’ suggested upper limit — nevertheless, screen time wasn’t correlated with how often parents took their kids out to play.

There was also no correlation with household income or mom’s marital status. 

There were, however, two interesting variables that increased the odds of getting regular fresh air: boys were taken out more often than girls, and moms who exercised regularly were more likely to the take their kids out.

It seems like active parents raise their kids to be more active, and perhaps the known statistic that boys are generally more active than girls can be partly explained by the fact that boys are given more opportunities for activity. 

Get outside!

Being active starts at home and with the parents.

Barring dangerous weather, kids — and adults — I do believe, will do themselves some good by spending some time outdoors every day. Regardless of what happened at day care or school, parents should encourage kids to go out, run around, look at trees and birds, meet some insects, get dirty and come back tired. I can’t think of a better way to take a break from work, media and chores than to leave them all behind and go out with the kids. Soon enough these young kids will be able to enjoy the outdoors without adult supervision, and if you’ve collected some great outdoor memories you’ll be rewarded with outdoor enthusiasts for life.

Dr. Ayala

“Sunshine is delicious, rain is refreshing, wind braces us up, snow is exhilarating; there is really no such thing as bad weather, only different kinds of good weather.” ~John Ruskin

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I knew before you said it that the variable was the activity level of the parents. Safety is, of course, an important consideration, but then again, parental involvement is the key there as well. Also I read a while ago, an article about playgrounds perhaps being a little too safe these days. Not challenging the kids enough.