This week, we have a short article by summer intern Jan Alex on a new program by Children’s Hospital of Pennsylvania, the Schuylkill Center for Environmental Education and the city’s Department of Parks and Recreation, in which CHOP doctors are prescribing outdoor activity to children.
The idea behind the program, called NaturePHL, is straightforward. Citing numerous studies that indicate children today only spend 1 percent of their free time outdoors, with increasing rates of childhood obesity, the program’s founders say kids need to spend more time outdoors, not just to build their characters, but to keep themselves healthy.
“Increasingly, the evidence suggests what we intuitively know to be true,” reads a passage from NaturePHL’s website. “That is to say that play, especially when it is unstructured and outdoors, has a central role in the healthy development of children.”
While the NaturePHL program is a great step in staving off inactivity for children, I can’t help but wonder if we don’t need a similar program for adults.
A recent study by the National Physical Activity Council found that 27 percent of Americans are completely inactive, getting no exercise whatsoever. In a report funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation called “The State of Obesity,” 80 percent of Americans don’t meet the government’s national physical activity recommendations for basic exercise. The cost of all this non-exercise was estimated to be around $117 billion in additional healthcare costs.
There are a lot of reasons for why we’re a pretty lazy nation. Most of us have to commute to work by car or train. Many of us work at desks in chairs, a habit some doctors believe is the “new smoking,” in terms of the how bad sitting in chairs all day is for our health.
But we make even worse choices with our time when not working. A study last year by Nielson, the TV ratings experts, found the average adult watches five hours and four minutes of television a day. When Nielson expanded its data to include time spent consuming both TV programming and web/social media content, the average American spends a whopping 10 hours and 39 minutes every day looking at a screen.
It doesn’t take much to be active enough to stave off the negative health benefits of a sedentary lifestyle. The World Health Organization recommends adults get 150 minutes of moderate physical activity a week, or just more than 21 minutes a day. That can be walking, yoga or light weight training exercises. 75 minutes of vigorous exercise (weight training/running/sports) will also do the trick.
Perhaps while CHOP doctors are handing out prescriptions to kids for healthy outdoor time, they can start looking at how we might be able to do the same for adults. There may be no better way to get kids active then to get their parents to put down their smartphones, turn off Netflix and join their children for a hike or a pickup soccer match.