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Magryta column: Go outside and play

Exercise and being in nature is a lost art for many children. We have stripped physical education from school and called it necessary for learning. We allow our children to sit indoors on a sunny day and watch TV or play hours of video games and call ourselves parents or stewards of their physical and mental growth.
We need change and lots of it.
The economy is struggling and we have had no control over its demise or its recovery, yet we can utilize the challenge it provides to stimulate old school beliefs that benefit us all.
Remember the stories of our grandparents and their endless playing outside making up games and enjoying nature. No money was spent on fancy, costly venues to exercise our children. Digging worms out of the garden or scooping crayfish out of the creek was a weekly event that made even the most sour child smile.
Make life simple. Forsake the manufactured event and encourage your children to reinvent the realm of imagination. Build things outside out of anything that you see. Run wild in the rain and laugh with your kids. Be a part of their great life. Smile. Share.
I am firm believer that children need to experience nature to learn the laws that nature provides. Being outside teaches one that everything influences everything else. There is a cause and effect to every action. We learn growth and death. We learn peace and anger. We learn the effects of hot and cold. Ultimately, we learn balance. This is the great lesson that we always need no matter how old we are. Balance is the key to almost everything. Marriage, friends, school and play: all need balance. The lack of physical education in school and at home is akin to a lack of affection in marriage. Sooner or later the imbalance causes a problem. Nature provides us with the vision of balance. If we can internalize these philosophies at a young age, then recapturing them at an older age is simpler. Right now we all need something simple ó just play outside in nature.
Scientifically, exercise and exposure to nature are useful for our physical and mental growth. Primarily, spending time in the sun provides our bodies with Vitamin D, a hormone that is responsible for bone function and immune system regulation. Exercise stimulates bone formation, which in turn has now been shown to affect insulin regulation. Exercise helps the body burn calories as well as use them more effectively. In simpler terms, exercise may prevent the onset or degradation of diabetes and metabolic syndrome.
If you believe the hygiene hypothesis, then the exposure to nature positively stimulates and teaches our immune system from a very young age. Many studies point to a link between natural infectious exposures and normal immune system development. For example, children growing up on a farm have a lower risk of developing allergic diseases than their city counterparts. J.F. Bach wrote a very nice synopsis of this topic in the New England Journal of Medicine in 2002.
Being outside provides many with a sense of well being and happiness. The mind and its sense of wellness have a direct effect on disease progression. Reducing stress influences the mind/body connection and fosters healing and health. Taking a walk in the park or playing in the backyard with nature provides a happy feeling. Positive thoughts create a positive outlook and belief in health, i.e., being alive. Take advantage of this economic hard time to reconnect with nature and teach your children balance and happiness. Teaching them will allow them to live balanced when we are gone.
Get out and play.
Chris Magryta is a pediatrician with Salisbury Pediatric Associates and a father.

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