Playing Outside Decreases ADHD Risk and Improves Child Vision

Vision and playing outside

By Case Adams, Naturopath

New research confirms that playing outside is beneficial to the health of a child – especially those who are hyperactive. A study from the University of South Carolina found that hyperactive children played more than lower-active children outside, for example.

And a more recent study of 45,897 kids in the U.S. between 10 and 17 years old found that less sedentary activity and not only increases obesity, but also significantly increases the risk of attention deficit disorders among kids.

Vision and playing outside

A review of eight studies has also found that children who play outside more have better vision. The review, presented by ophthalmologist Anthony Khawaja, MBBS at the 2011 annual meeting of the American Academy of Ophthalmology, included more than 10,000 kids. It showed that nearsightedness incidence was reduced by more outside playing.

Those children who spent more time outside playing had an average of 13% less chance of developing nearsighted vision for every hour spent outside doing physical activity.

Nearsightedness, or myopia, is symptomized by far away objects becoming blurry and unfocused. A common sign is that a child will complain that the chalkboard at school, a movie screen or something else in the distance appears blurry. An abnormal cornea shape lies at the root of the issue, preventing the ability to focus well.

The review also revealed that nearsighted children were indoors an average of four hours more per week than their peers.

“Increasing children’s outdoor time could be a simple and cost-effective measure with important benefits for their vision and general health,” commented Khawaja.

Nearsightedness has been increasing over the last four decades, especially among wealthier countries, whose kids tend to that spend more time indoors and in front of computers. About 30% of U.S. children are nearsighted, and some Asian countries have myopia rates as high as 80%.

In a recent study not included in Khawaja’s review, half of 80 nearsighted children between seven and eleven years old changed their activity schedule for two years. They spent at least 14 hours a week outside playing and no more than 30 hours a week reading, watching television or being on the computer. After the two years, those kids who spent more time outdoors more had significantly less incidence of nearsightedness.

Commentary: Playing outside is critical for health

Whatever the reason, playing outside has been a historical staple for children around the world. Decreased outdoor activity for children may impact more than just vision. Other research has found that playing outside increases immunity. Increased exposure to soil organisms and other microorganisms lowers the risk of infection.

Researchers differ in their theories for the mechanisms involved with regard to ADHD and vision. Some believe that more time indoors means more television and computer games and less social interaction. Many also believe that outside play not only exercises the eyes, but increases healthy interactions with other kids. We explored this research in another article.

Another factor is that increased exposure to the sun’s radiation can increase vision health and exert a calming effect at the same time. This is due to the fact that the eyes are allowed to see a full spectrum of color around them when outside. Colors such as green and blue have been shown to have a calming effect, and can increase cognition.

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Howie EK, Brown WH, Dowda M, McIver KL, Pate RR. Physical activity behaviours of highly active preschoolers. Pediatr Obes. 2013 Apr;8(2):142-9. doi: 10.1111/j.2047-6310.2012.00099.x.

Cook BG, Li D, Heinrich KM. Obesity, Physical Activity, and Sedentary Behavior of Youth With Learning Disabilities and ADHD. J Learn Disabil. 2014 Jan 21.

Jacobs KW, Suess JF. Effects of four psychological primary colors on anxiety state. Percept Mot Skills. 1975 Aug;41(1):207-10.


Case Adams is a California Naturopath with a PhD in Natural Health Sciences, and Board Certified Alternative Medicine Practitioner. He has authored 26 books on natural healing strategies. “My journey into writing about alternative medicine began about 9:30 one evening after I finished with a patient at the clinic I practiced at over a decade ago. I had just spent the last two hours explaining how diet, sleep and other lifestyle choices create health problems and how changes in these, along with certain herbal medicines and other natural strategies can radically yet safely turn ones health around. As I drove home that night, I realized I needed to get this knowledge out to more people. So I began writing about health with a mission to reach those who desperately need this information. The strategies in my books and articles are backed by scientific evidence along with wisdom handed down through traditional medicines for thousands of years.” Case connects with the elements by surfing, hiking and being a beach bum.

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