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Ways to get outside safely
December 9, 2021

Healthy Eagle
reporters recently interviewed Dr. Roxane Javadi, a pediatric resident at St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children, to ask about the health benefits of spending time outside. Her responses have been edited and condensed.

Illustration by Saada

Q. What happens when kids don’t get enough time outside? 

When kids don’t spend enough time outside, they can run the risk of getting sick, both in their body but also in their minds. During COVID, [scientists] found that kids who didn’t spend much time outside were more sad. Mood can be affected. It can make you anxious, depressed or sad, lonely, have poor social development, those kinds of things. Also, you get vitamin D when you go outside in the sun, and that’s good for your health. It’s hard in a world where you have COVID to grow up with, but spending time outside can help you exercise, which can help you have a healthier immune system. 

Q. How many minutes or hours do you think kids should be on screens each day?

I know with COVID you guys spend a lot of time on screens, even in school. When I was in your grade, that wasn’t the case at all. … As much as I’d like to advise kids not to be on screens, it’s not the most practical advice. What we as doctors say is no more than two hours on screens each day. But make it healthy screen time, something that is part of school or educational, that is helping your creativity or mood. Negative or unhealthy screen time is when you’re scrolling, and just passively watching. When you notice that you’re bored of screens, you can take a break, do some reading, play, art, do whatever makes you happy. 

Q. Do you find that kids who spend more time outside are healthier? 

Yes, 2 recent studies have come out just a little while ago that showed that kids who spent time outside during covid connecting with nature or with family had better mental health and physical health than kids who didn’t.

When you’re outside moving around, that movement can help you be healthier too.

It helps you connect with nature and other people, it can be educational, and helps you develop well rounded interests, so you’re not just into video games, but interested in the trees around you.  

Q. What if kids are afraid to go outside because of violence or other safety worries?

Do it with an adult that you trust … . You can make it an activity. There are a lot of programs that take you to fun places in Center City. Walking around there would be good. Philadelphia has a lot of great parks, which are really good. Getting involved in a sports team or group where you’re in an activity that’s protected and supervised by adults, like basketball.

If you can’t go outside, do some type of physical activity in your home. Yoga apps, dance apps can give you a lot of the same benefits that you get from being outside. Even putting on music you like and dancing in your room can let you release everything you have building up from your day. Being healthy and active and away from screens as well.

Q: What if there’s no parks or anything for kids to play outside? If they don’t have a front lawn or backyard? 

A: Because Philadelphia is a city, it can be hard to have access to green spaces here. Unfortunately, those green spaces are not evenly spaced out around Philadelphia. If you have access to transportation, you have to make a day out of it. If someone asks you what you want to do today, get out of your comfort zone. Ask to go to the park. I imagine there are times when you’re going to school that you’re walking outside. Look out your window on the bus or in the car and connect with nature. Slow it down and keep your eyes out for nature. 

Q: What happens to you if you stay inside watching TV?

A: When you watch TV for way too long, how do you feel? Good? Do you start getting bored doing the same thing all the time? Thumbs down. It doesn’t feel too good being on a screen for too long. Your brain shuts off, it’s passive. You’re not engaged in what you’re doing. Going outside is really nice because you never know what to expect. When you see a cloud you think to yourself, what does that cloud look like? It’s a different way to get engaged with your environment and doing more active play. You don’t get bored as often. We have a lot of studies — they’ve found that staying inside increases depression and anxiety. It makes you sad and mad all the time to stay inside all the time. 

Q. How much time do you get to spend outside each day, since you have to go to work? 

I think it’s important to be realistic with your limits. It’s hard to get outside some days, but some days I spend five hours at a time outside. I like doing a lot of hiking and rock climbing. I used to be really into running but not so much anymore. Whatever makes you happy! 

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