My husband and I are pretty weird. Most holidays and anniversaries, we don't do fancy dinners or anything like that. Instead, we go hiking in random places. (Yup, we like hiking that much.) Since our son was born a little over a year ago, we haven't had as much time for our preferred outdoor pursuit But I can't wait until he's old enough to strap on his own pair of boots, because there are so many benefits to taking your kids on a hike.
"Hikes can be such a great family activity — going outside and appreciating nature is good for both your physical and mental well-being," Dr. Gina Posner, pediatrician at MemorialCare Orange Coast Medical Center in Fountain Valley, California, tells Romper. "It is also a healthy and inexpensive activity that you can do as a family."
Of course, I know there are a lot of people who take their babies on hikes, and more power to them. I personally don't want to feel like I'm cooking myself or my son by wearing him in the front, or on my back, and I'm not sure if I'm in shape enough at this point to use one of those fancy hiking baby carriers. (It is so hot and humid where I live in Georgia, y'all, and it's like that pretty much eight months out of the year.) I think we'll all have more fun when my son is a little bit older and I won't melt into a puddle on the hiking trail. That's when we can really take advantage of the following perks.
1. The chance to unplug
Studies show that too much screen time is literally damaging our brains, according to Psychology Today. In an article written by Dr. Victoria L. Dunckley, she noted, "As a practitioner, I observe that many of the children I see suffer from sensory overload, lack of restorative sleep, and a hyperaroused nervous system, regardless of diagnosis — what I call electronic screen syndrome. These children are impulsive, moody, and can’t pay attention."
2. An opportunity to experience nature
"First and foremost, when families hike together they get out of their houses and apartments and into nature. With this comes a respect for the vastness of the earth and the goodness of fresh air," says Dr. Robert Hamilton, pediatrician at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, California and author of 7 Secrets of the Newborn.
"In the beginning of humankind, we lived our lives outdoors the majority of the time," Dr. Hamilton adds. "With modernity and the development of indoor spaces, we have become a 'shut-in' people. Nothing wrong with a comfortable home or a nice bed, but our children need to know the grandeur of the world. Hiking is where this begins."
3. A boost in confidence
As an article on the National Recreation and Park Association (NRPA) explained, hiking is a way for kids to test their limits trying something new and gives them the option to make their own choices, whether it's on how to cross a stream, or make it up a tough hill.
4. A moment of silence
Sometimes we all could use a little break from the hustle and bustle to just take a deep breath and listen to the wind blowing through the leaves in the trees and the birds chirping.
In fact quiet time is crucial for our survival, according to a Psychology Today article. We definitely need respite from "the constant bombardment of information" at every corner, including "billboards, video, road rage Jerry Springer, Gap ads, Facebook updates, cellphone calls... Tweets, Digg, alarms, and interruptions of all stripes." Information overload affects our ability to function and affects our short-term memory, the article reports.
5. Practice using a map
Though this may not seem like a needed skill thanks to GPS and Waze, what happens if your phone runs out of battery one day and you don't have a charger? What if your car's interface fails? You'll be glad your parents took you on a hike and taught you how to read a map, let me tell you. I learned this lesson the hard way by getting lost in my own city in rush hour traffic trying to find an alternate route home — only for Waze to crash and my phone to die right when I didn't know where I was. Longest commute home ever.
6. A boost in motor skill development
"A growing body of research shows that spending active time outdoors is good for our health — and that goes for both kids and adults," the NRPA website explained. "A light hike offers beneficial cardiovascular exercise, for sure, but perhaps more important in today’s world of highly groomed play spaces, a trail hike can offer kids opportunities to traverse rocks, navigate exposed roots, and climb over fallen trees, building balance and agility."
7. A fun way to get exercise
“In general, exercising with your kids is always a super healthy way to spend time together. It gets them and parent(s) outside instead of staring at a screen all the time. In addition, it is an excellent way to get their heart pumping faster which is also an good for them," Posner says.
Another interesting health benefit you probably didn't expect? "Studies have shown that children who spend more time outdoors have less chance of developing myopia (an inability to see distant objects, sometimes call ‘nearsightedness’)," adds Hamilton.
8. A dose of Vitamin D
"Natural sunlight provides vitamin D to your child, which is important in bone formation and mineral homeostasis," says Hamilton.
9. A better night's sleep
"Outdoor life promotes better sleeping habits. Children who spend lots of time outdoors develop better sleeping habits than children who are sedentary," Hamilton says. In fact, a study in the Journal of Sleep Research found that babies who slept best at night "were exposed to twice as much light between the hours of midday and 4 p.m. as the poor sleepers," according to a Telegraph UK article.
10. Improved focus and concentration
Thanks to an absence of screens, gadgets, and other distractions, hiking helps teach kids how to focus, reported USA Today. They'll get in the habit of appreciating being in the moment and focusing on what's around them.