How Much Time Should We Be Spending Outdoors?

We all know it’s a good idea to get up off the couch for a little while but what does a little fresh air actually do for us? How much time should we be spending outdoors?

Sabrina Stierwalt, PhD
4-minute read
Episode #290

What Keeps Us From Playing Outdoors?

When it comes to our children, parenting styles have changed significantly in the past few decades. We are less likely to send our kids outside to play unsupervised due to perceived risks. Parents often cite fear as the main reason their kids don’t see more time outside. With growing pressure in cities to make the valuable space as usable as possible, we also see apartment complexes going up instead of playgrounds and parks. Thus finding space to just be outside is a luxury that not everyone has access to.

But the biggest sink on our outdoor time, no matter how old we are, appears to be the time we spend in front of a screen instead. The average child today spends 6.5 hours a day in front of a screen. That number was only three hours in 1995. Our screens provide us with unlimited entertainment which makes us less likely to seek fun and adventure outdoors.

Of course, indoor activities do provide their own benefits as well. For example, reading can help improve memory in children and adults, as well as improve attention span and imagination in young kids. The key, as is often the case when it comes to our health, is finding the right balance.

So how much time should we be spending outdoors? The American Academy of Pediatrics and the Center for Disease Control in the United States both recommend at least an hour of free play a day. Some pediatric occupational therapists recommend as many as three hours outside per day, a far cry from the 20-30 minute recess periods allowed in most public school systems. If three hours, or even an hour, seems daunting, start by trying to increase your outdoor time a little bit each day. But don’t forget to stay hydrated and to put on some sunscreen.

Until next time, this is Sabrina Stierwalt with Ask Science’s Quick and Dirty Tips for helping you make sense of science. You can become a fan of Ask Science on Facebook or follow me on Twitter, where I’m @QDTeinstein. If you have a question that you’d like to see on a future episode, send me an email at everydayeinstein@quickanddirtytips.com.

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About the Author

Sabrina Stierwalt, PhD

Dr Sabrina Stierwalt earned a Ph.D. in Astronomy & Astrophysics from Cornell University and is now a Professor of Physics at Occidental College.