A new study has found even more benefits for children who play outside. While we know that outdoors play is great for mental and physical health and fitness, UK research has also found that it helps maintain children’s eyesight, too.
The study, conducted by the universities of Bristol and Cardiff, found that children, aged between eight and nine, who spend more time outdoors playing are half as likely to become short-sighted by the time they are 15.
Short-sightedness, which is more specifically called myopia, usually starts with the onset of puberty. Being short-sighted means that items in the far distance are more blurred and many teenagers find they then need spectacles or contact lenses to correct their vision so that they can see, for example, the whiteboard in the school classroom.
Across the entire UK population, a third are short-sighted, while some 5% have severe myopia.
What did the Playing Out study look at?
The study team followed the occurrence of short-sightedness in more than 7,000 boys and girls in the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children, also known as the "Children of the 90s study”.
More than 14,000 mothers signed up for the long-term study during pregnancy in 1991 and 1992, and the health and development of their children has been followed in detail ever since.
The children’s physical activity levels were recorded with an activity monitor and this data was then to levels of myopia.
The findings suggest that spending more time outdoors is linked to less myopia by the age of 15.
What the experts say about outdoors play
Dr Cathy Williams, of Bristol University's School of Social and Community Medicine, is reported as saying: "We’re still not sure why being outdoors is good for children’s eyes, but given the other health benefits that we know about we would encourage children to spend plenty of time outside, although of course parents will still need to follow advice regarding UV exposure."
She added that more studies are needed to investigate the benefits. She said: "There is now a need to carry out further studies investigating how much time outside is needed to protect against short-sightedness, what age the protective effect of spending time outside is most marked and how the protective effect actually works, so that we can try and reduce the number of children who become short-sighted."
How to have safe fun outdoors this summer
While sun absorbed by the skin is a great source of vital Vitamin D, it is important that children are also protected from the potentially harmful rays of the sun.
The sun’s UV rays can quickly damage children’s skin, especially if you have blond or red hair.
Top tips for avoiding sun burn
- Always wear appropriate sunscreen, apply all over the face and body and re-apply it every 2-3 hours, especially if sweating or swimming, even if the sunscreen is waterproof.
- Take particular care if swimming or boating because the reflection from the water intensifies the sun’s rays.
- Wear tightly woven outdoor clothes, or clothing that includes SPF ratings.
- Take frequent breaks from the sun by going indoors or moving into the shade.
- Avoid being out in the sun between 11:00 am and 3:00pm, when the sun’s rays are strongest.
- Wear a hat, ideally with a wide brim and ear cover.
- Encourage kids to wear sunglasses to protect their eyes from the sun.
What to do if your child’s skin does get burned
Cool the area under a shower for at least 10 minutes, or apply repeated cool wet towels for 15 minutes. When completely cooled, apply Aloe Vera gel to the affected area to soothe and reduce swelling. Make sure your child drinks plenty of water because dehydration can lead to heat exhaustion and sickness.