Children Inspired By Natural Playgrounds Tend To Be More Physically Active

Keeping kids active and allowing ample playtime isn’t just to maintain a healthy weight as it’s also imperative for healthy mental and physical development.  Getting outdoors while being active can also add some extra benefits like getting fresh air and allowing kids to run off that seemingly never ending stream of energy.  According to a new study, nature can inspire even more physical activity.

The University of Texas (UT), in the first U.S. study of its kind, examined changes in physical activity patterns and levels in young kids exposed to both natural and traditional playgrounds. As it turns out, kids who play on nature inspired elements like logs and flowers tend to be more active than kids who play on traditional playgrounds comprised of metal and brightly colored equipment.

Dawn Coe, study author and assistant professor at the Department of Kinesiology, Recreation, and Sport Studies; observed kids at the UT’s Early Learning Center. Coe studied the intensity of the kids’ activity, how often they used the slide and other playground equipment, along with how much time was spent in a shaded porch area to get out of the sun.

The Early Learning staff commenced upgrades on the playground over the course of several months.  A gazebo was added, slides were built into a hill as well as planting dwarf trees, building a creek, and landscaping the playground with flowers and rocks.  Also adding tree stumps and logs, the playground was turned into what Coe dubbed a “natural playscape.”

Returning for follow up observations this year with a statistician in tow, Coe observed big differences between the natural playground versus the traditional one. From jumping off logs to watering the plants near the creek, kids nearly doubled their time playing. The children were also involved in more aerobic activity as well as more muscle and bone building activities. To boot, kids were also less sedentary spending less time in the porch area after the renovations. While long-term studies are needed, it certainly provides a little extra incentive to get kids outside for playtime and solace knowing that you don’t need a fancy swing set- because nature makes the perfect playground.

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