Kids who play more outdoors may be less likely to have problems with peers

Kids who spend more time outdoors seem to gain a boost in their peer relations, according to a new report from Statistics Canada.
Reconnecting outdoors could help children to develop resilience. (Galit Rodan/The Canadian Press)

Kids who spend more time outdoors seem to gain a boost in their peer relations, according to a new report from Statistics Canada.

On Wednesday, the agency released a report on outdoor time, physical activity and sedentary time and health indicators of Canadians aged 7 to 14.

Canadian guidelines suggest that kids between five and 17 years old get at least 60 minutes of moderate- to vigorous-intensity physical activity per day. Only nine per cent of children do. (The rule of thumb is if you're able to carry on a conversation easily then you're not working hard enough.)

Each additional hour spent outdoors was associated with:

  • 7 more minutes of moderate-to-vigorous activity.
  • 762 more steps.
  • 13 fewer minutes of sedentary time.

As well, children reporting more time outdoors were less likely to have peer relationship problems compared with those who spent less time outside, Mark Tremblay of the Healthy Active Living and Obesity Research Group at the Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario and his team said in Health Reports.

The study extends the evidence of an association between time spent outdoors, physical activity and less sedentary time in a nationally representative sample.

Overall, children who spent more time outdoors were less likely to have peer relationship problems and better psychosocial health, based on scores such as functioning and aggression.

The more you're out interacting with real people, neighbours, adults and children, the more children develop their skills, Tremblay said.

"I think we have a fear of the outdoors and it's ill founded. We also seem to have security with the indoors, which is also ill founded," Tremblay said in an interview from Nairobi, Kenya.

Canada is getting safer but parents are often afraid to let their children play outside.

"We have a real disconnect between what we believe is good for kids and what really is good for kids."

Reconnecting with nature could help children to become resilient, such as bundling up to handle cold, wet weather, instead of being pampered indoors, Tremblay said.

No cause and effect relationships can be draw from the data but some studies following people over time in different parts of the world suggest a strong association, he said. 

Who are the fittest?

Separately, Tremblay and an international research team from CHEO and the University of North Dakota also studied the aerobic fitness levels of children and youth from across 50 countries.

The researchers analyzed 20-meter shuttle data, also called the beep test, from 1.1 million kids aged 9 to 17 years old. It's a popular field-based test of aerobic fitness levels.

If all the kids were to line up for a race, the average Canadian would place just above the middle of the pack. In general, South Americans were the worst.

The highlights include:

  • Top 5 fittest countries: Tanzania, Iceland, Estonia, Norway, Japan.
  • Canada placed 19 out of 50.
  • U.S.A. placed 47 out of 50
  • The least fit was Mexico.

There was a consistent relationship between higher inequality being associated with lower aerobic fitness, Tremblay said.

The Canadian study was based on a nationally representative sample of 1,159 people aged 7 to 14 who participated in the 2012/2013 Canadian Health Measures Survey. Participants wore accelerometers for several days to record physical activity levels. 

With files from CBC's Amina Zafar


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