The Cooper Institute

Founded in 1970 by the "Father of Aerobics"
Kenneth H. Cooper MD, MPH


The Benefits of Playing Outside

Written by
Amber Freeland
Posted in

Wednesday, Dec 05, 2018

Physical activity is more important than ever as obesity rates among children continues to climb. But moving more isn’t just confined to the P.E. class or school recess. Playing outside is just as important as any structured exercise activity or sport, even more important in some ways.

In this digital era of video games, mobile devices and video streaming, playing outside is more important than ever for whole-child health and wellness. The simple act of playing outside is about so much more than entertainment. It provides a host of benefits to a child’s physical, mental and social development.

In a recent article from Harvard Health, there are six reasons why kids need to play outside. These include the importance of sunshine for Vitamin D production, exercise, socialization and executive function - the ability to plan, prioritize, troubleshoot and negotiate - which all come from active play outside.

The Cooper Institute addressed the need for outdoor play years ago after looking at research that showed a 50% decline over 20 years in the time children spend playing outdoors.


The Vision Impact Institute has another reason why kids should play outside more - an epidemic of myopia. More commonly known as near-sightedness, myopia is rapidly rising in developed countries, especially in China where as many as 90% of children are now nearsighted. With such a dramatic rise, researchers surmise that the result must be from environmental factors rather than genetics. Many believe this alarming trend is largely the result of our dependency and daily consumption of mobile devices both for entertainment and academics. In fact, one such study from King’s College in the UK showed that every extra hour a child spent on computer games each week increased the chance of myopia by 3%.

So what does playing outside have to do with being nearsighted?

One factor that keeps popping up in research on the subject is that the longer kids are outside, the less likely they are to become nearsighted. Playing outside forces children to look beyond what’s directly in front of them and focus on distant objects, thereby improving their spatial vision and reducing the risk of developing nearsightedness.

The benefits of outdoor play have never been more clear. More playtime outside leads to improved vision, aerobic capacity, physical fitness and overall health for the whole child, but it’s just as important for adults. Put down the phone, step away from the laptop, and spend more time outside with your kids to make sure your whole family lives #WELLintothefuture