Want to Raise Healthy Kids? Surround them with Trees!
We just spent a weekend in the Drakensberg and the room that we stayed in opened up onto a large lawn surrounded by trees and, in the background, glorious mountains. The minute we arrived and opened that back door, the kids ran outside, their excited shrieks filling the air, as they started exploring the natural surroundings. It is as if the fresh air, the sheer space and all the various shades of green crept into their beings and into their busy little legs, giving them boundless layers of happy, healthy energy. As I stepped outside to join them, I understood their joy: nature has a way of calming a tumultuous soul, of grounding our beings, of allowing us to be 100% present.
Things to do with Kids: Healthy and Happy Outdoor Kids
The Japanese word ‘shinrin-yoku’ means ‘forest bathing’ and the term was coined and promoted by their Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries as a way to decrease stress and improve health. Here are some of the reasons why forest bathing is so important:
Boosts our Immune System
You might remember this from Biology class in school (or maybe not), but plants give off a chemical compound called Phytoncides to protect themselves from insects. These chemicals of goodness contain antibacterial and antifungal properties and when we breathe in these phytoncides our bodies respond by producing immune-boosting white blood cells.
Plants also filter the air, purifying it for us (isn’t that just amazing). I have a number of plants in my house, but my favourite by far is our Peace Lily, which removes everything from ammonia and formaldehyde to benzene. The name itself makes me happy and I rest easy knowing that my kids breathe in less polluted air.
Stress Reduction and Mood Improvement
Do you remember the last time you walked amongst trees? Or the last time you had a picnic in the shade of a large tree? Do you remember that amazing sense of tranquillity you felt? Trees have a way of making a sad heart happy, of lightening a heavy soul. In fact, studies have shown that exercising amongst trees or simply looking at them reduces blood pressure as well as the presence of stress-related hormones in our bodies.
Bonding as a Family
We get so caught up in our daily routines and stresses that we often forget to just take a break. Nature gives us (and our kids) this much-needed downtime, a break-away to simply find our centre again.
Additionally, did you know that a mere 20 minutes spent together as a family in nature strengthens the bond that you share?
Faster Recovery from Illness and Surgery
I remember lying in hospital after my c-section and all I wanted was to be able to look out of the window and see some greenery (instead I got a parking lot) and to feel a breeze of fresh air on my face. I have now learned that research has shown that patients with a garden view have shorter hospital stays, take fewer painkillers and have fewer post-operative complications.
Find a Forest Near You!
It is amazing how our bodies crave nature: we look for houses with a lot of natural light, we invest in beautiful gardens (or house- and balcony plants), we keep our windows and doors open for fresh air and we visit nurseries for fun. We are meant to be in and near nature and although big city living does not always allow easy access to forests, venues like Acrobranch gives families that much-needed reprieve into nature and the outdoors. The first thing I do when I arrive at our local Acrobranch is to stand dead still, I look up at the magnificent trees and I simply breathe…and then we go and have fun as a family. We climb and zip and jump, and, most importantly, we laugh.