I watched a tv commercial recently, recommending that families should play outdoors for at least an hour a day. “The NFL PLAY 60 Challenge teaches educators and children to integrate health and fitness into daily classroom lessons.”

What a great idea! It shouldn’t even be necessary, since most of us grew up playing outside, until our mothers called us home for dinner – by screaming our names (no cell phones).

Outdoor play is part of a healthy existence that has, somehow, been moved lower down on kids’ to-do-list. Academics, homework, tutoring, therapies, digital devices, etc., have become top priorities, even in the youngest, and especially for special needs children.

There are a variety of questions and theories about the cause of the increase in childhood developmental abnormalities in this century. To be sure, there are poisons galore that have exploded into our air, food, and water. Perhaps just as importantly, or in some cause-and-effect manner, healthy outdoor play has dwindled in modern childhood, and deserves exploration as one of the possible associations, because treatment is so simple. Get off the couch!

Causes and Effects

Digital devices
These alluring products have taken over the lives of many, as young as the second year of life, for prolonged periods. There are two primary problems – lack of socialization and imagination. To be sure, there are educational and other apps that may be able to successfully address certain behaviors or educational weaknesses. Mostly, however, i-stuff shuts out the world and is subject to repetitive play that rarely generalizes to useful real-world skills.

Often, anti-anxiety and stimulant preparations are prescribed too easily and frequently, and rarely address the root cause(s) of a child’s difficulties. The side effects may include listlessness, poor diet or unraveling (as the med wears off) that makes after-school-play a chore. Drug ‘vacations’, during holidays, vacations, and even weekends can mitigate some of those problems.

Undernourished or overweight individuals are less likely to achieve in outdoor sports. Picky eaters, low vitamin D, high or low cholesterol, iron-deficiency anemia, and thyroid problems are often diagnosed at The Child Development Center of America. Children who experience such metabolic abnormalities may display a lack of normal desire to leave their indoor environment and socialize. A vicious cycle ensues, with even lower energy, leading to more resistance to physical activities.

Fungus in the gastro-intestinal system is a prevalent problem, at least in the special needs population. Constipation leads to slowing down the entire body ecosystem, making outdoor play a chore. Less activity can further deteriorate the situation. Warm, wet, dark, stationary places (a non-motile gut) make an excellent home for yeast, which robs nutrition, alters the immune system, and creates toxic byproducts. In addition to probiotics, healthier foods, and anti fungal preparations, adequate muscle activity will push the food along.

Perhaps created by a child’s internal constitution and altered biorhythm, or due to any combination of the formerly-mentioned medication, nutrition, and gut micro-biome disturbances, lack of adequate sleep can be a major factor in a cyclical pattern of decreased activity and less desire and/or ability to fall asleep.

Mingling with others and exploring the world breeds increased desire to expand our universe. Playing at home with family is great, but the outdoors is where kids have frolicked for all generations and in all locales. Our complicated world forces adults to work more, experience increased stress, and have poor health habits. We shouldn’t be foisting that condition on the children, as well.

The NFL has experienced and/or created a number of poorly handled issues, such as concussions, player lifestyles, recruiting and gambling. This effort needs to be applauded because the advice – to play outdoors at least 60 minutes per day – should be heeded.

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      Pediatric Special Needs Medicine
      Functional and Integrative Children’s Care

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