Last month, we brought you the many reasons why outdoor play is essential for kids. But does the need to engage in free play outside magically stop at age 18? Absolutely not! A number of recent studies point to the value of outdoor play for adults, but those same studies suggest that neighborhood parks are underused by adults, especially senior adults. Why should you and your inner child head to a local park?
Sedentary jobs and lifestyles have become increasingly common since the end of World War II. Many Americans sit in front of computers all day and switch to TV screens or other electronic media in the evening. According to the National Recreation and Park Association, Millennials are the most likely group to do this. They’re also the least likely group to spend five or more hours playing outdoors each week – only 31% of Millennials say they do this regularly. Gen Xers fare little better at 33%. Baby Boomers did the best with outdoor play at 41%, but that’s still less than half the group. The study also noted that parents are more likely to engage in outdoor play than adults without children.
Playing in a park is great physical fitness activity, of course, whether you play an organized game like softball or just run around with friends or family. Incorporating some motion into your day is important no matter how old you are – the dangers of extended sitting have been widely studied and proven to shorten lifespans. A recent report by the RAND Corporation noted that adults get the most benefit from parks with plenty of walking trails, but tend to underuse other recreation facilities like tennis courts, fitness zones, etc. Don’t be afraid to make use of everything the parks spaces have to offer; they’re there for you and in Kettering, they’re free!
A workout isn’t the only reason adults can benefit from outdoor play. Let’s face it – adult life is stressful. Spending an afternoon or evening blowing off steam as you shoot hoops or enjoy a scavenger hunt can lower your blood pressure and get you mentally prepared to deal with the stresses that work, family and life might throw your way.
And finally, one of the biggest benefits we discussed when talking about kids and play was the social benefit. Guess what – adults can benefit in this way, too! The benefits are of course slightly different from those that kids get. For example, adults are already well-versed in social norms and group dynamics. But meeting a friend at the park or heading into nature with your family is a great way to strengthen your bond, and playing a game together encourages cooperation, a skill that comes in handy at any age. Healthy social interaction is just as important for adults as it is for kids, so be sure to take advantage of your local park as a community meeting space.
Cohen et al. “The First National Study of Neighborhood Parks: Implications for Physical Activity.” American Journal of Preventative Medicine, 2016, 51(4): 419–426.
National Recreation and Park Association. “Making Outdoor Play a Priority for Adults.” www.nrpa.org/parkpulse.