Thank you to Dr. Mark Tremblay, chair of Outdoor Play Canada, for providing this post.
Active outdoor play for children and families is an ideal antidote for COVID-19 transmission and coping mechanism for related restrictions – provided that public health guidance is followed. Outdoor play can help to cope with, contain, and combat COVID-19 – but for that to happen it needs to be available and accessible.
In 2015, a Position Statement was released by an expert panel to remind Canadians of the critical importance of outdoor play for children’s healthy growth and development. It highlighted the irony of the widespread belief that keeping kids indoors is safer, when the evidence overwhelmingly shows that the outdoors is far better for physical activity, air quality, social interaction, connecting with nature, staying away from screens, health promotion and reducing communicable disease transmission. The supporting research was widely disseminated through the 2015 ParticipACTION Report Card. The evidence is clear … The Biggest Risk is Keeping Kids Indoors. In 2018, the Council of Chief Medical Officers of Health released their own Statement on Active Outdoor Play, supporting and endorsing the earlier statement that “access to active play in nature and outdoors – with its risks – is essential for healthy child development”.
the outdoors is far better for physical activity, air quality, social interaction, connecting with nature, staying away from screens, health promotion and reducing communicable disease transmission
Not only is communicable disease transmission lower in the outdoors, but immune function is enhanced with increased active outdoor play and physical activity – a double-defence against COVID-19. It also supports an array of physical, mental, emotional, social, spiritual and environmental health benefits. Pre-COVID only 17% of Canadian school-aged children were meeting the Canadian 24-hour movement guidelines for physical activity, sedentary behaviour and sleep. This prevalence dropped after the COVID-19 restrictions were imposed, and in April 2020 less than 3% of Canadian children were meeting these guidelines. Furthermore, 42% of children were getting less active outdoor play.
Messages to “stay at home” are often misinterpreted as “stay inside” and some restrictions such as park and playground closures reinforced this misinterpretation. COVID-19 is spread indoors, and only in the outdoors if social distancing rules are not followed. Last March Outdoor Play Canada released guidance for the question “should I go outside in the COVID-19 era?”. It highlighted that COVID-19 transmission is less likely outdoors, outdoor physical activity makes our immune system more robust, and outdoor play helps children and families feel connected to their community, making stay at home orders less isolating. Resources to help families encourage, facilitate, role-model and co-participate in outdoor play with children can be found here.
in April 2020 less than 3% of Canadian children were meeting the Canadian 24-hour movement guidelines for physical activity, sedentary behaviour, and sleep
Local, provincial, and national leaders need to be held to account so that any post-COVID-19 “return to normal” includes an adjustment in resource distribution, land utilization, and policy development that facilitates a recalibration of the indoor to outdoor time ratio of Canadians. Outdoor greenspaces must be preserved through efforts such as that of the Ottawa planning committee who recently rejected a development proposal to convert a Kanata golf course into a 1500-home subdivision. We must implement a “new normal” that helps get Canadians outside – to play, learn, teach, grow and develop as healthy, caring, connected and environmentally attentive stewards of each other, the land, water, plants and animals.
Now, more than ever, we need to trade rug burns for grass stains; slippers and pajamas for boots and snow suits; no trespassing signs for invitations to come and play; car dominance for open streets; and land development for green space preservation. Outdoor play can help keep the doctor (and COVID-19) away – if in doubt send them out!