Expert Articles

Play Outside!

Author: Vanessa Thai
Developmental and Behavioural Optometrist
Central Health Southside – Child Development Team

Spending time outdoors offers a wide range of physical and mental benefits for everyone, including children. It plays a crucial role in their overall development, including their vision. Concerns about the excessive use of digital devices and a growing trend of indoor activities have raised questions about the impact on children’s eyesight, especially during the pandemic.

This article aims to discuss the benefits of natural light, the importance of varied distances, and the role of physical activity and eye exercises in promoting healthy vision.

Natural Light and Eye Health

Natural light is crucial for children’s eye health and vision development. When children spend time outdoors, they are exposed to sunlight, which contains a full spectrum of light, including blue and green wavelengths. These wavelengths play a vital role in regulating various physiological processes in the body.

One important aspect influenced by natural light is the regulation of sleep-wake cycles and circadian rhythms. Exposure to natural light helps synchronise the body’s internal clock, ensuring that children maintain a healthy sleep pattern. Adequate and quality sleep is essential for overall health, including the proper functioning of the visual system.

Sunlight also plays a role in the production of neurotransmitters like dopamine and serotonin. These neurotransmitters are responsible for regulating mood, emotions, and cognitive function. Dopamine, in particular, is associated with the regulation of eye growth and the prevention of myopia.

Varied Distances and Eye Exercises

Engaging in outdoor activities such as playing, running, climbing, and exploring nature challenges the visual system and requires the eyes to shift focus between nearby and distant objects. These activities contribute to the development of eye coordination, depth perception, and spatial awareness. Tracking moving objects and navigating uneven terrain during outdoor play further strengthens binocular vision and improves the ability to judge distances and coordinate hand-eye movements.

In addition, when children focus on objects at varying distances during outdoor play, the eye muscles are relaxed which reduces the risk of developing myopia (otherwise known as short-sightedness). By contrast, prolonged periods of near work, such as reading or screen use indoors, can strain the eye muscles and contribute to the development of myopia.

Reduced Digital Eye Strain

Popular indoor activities often involve digital devices and excessive screen time can negatively impact children’s eye health, leading to a condition known as digital eyestrain or computer vision syndrome. Prolonged focus on screens, such as smartphones, tablets, and computers, can cause eye fatigue and discomfort. Symptoms may include tiredness, dryness, and a burning sensation in the eyes. Additionally, headaches can arise from the constant refocusing required during screen use.

Frequent screen use can also lead to decreased blinking, which can contribute to dry eyes. When children are engrossed in digital activities, they tend to blink less frequently, leading to increased tear evaporation and discomfort.

To alleviate these symptoms, it is essential to encourage children to spend time outdoors and reduce their screen exposure. Engaging in outdoor activities provides a much-needed break from the intense near work associated with screen use, encourages blinking and allows the eye muscles to relax.

Visual Efficiency and Attention

Outdoor play often involves paying attention to various elements in the environment, such as spotting animals and insects, tracking moving objects, or following paths and trails. These activities require visual skills that contribute to attention and concentration. Engaging in outdoor games and explorations can improve a child’s ability to maintain attention, focus on tasks, and shift attention when needed. These skills are not only important for academic success but also for overall cognitive development.

Healthy Lifestyle Habits

Encouraging children to play outside is beneficial for their physical, mental, and visual well-being. Parents, educators, and caregivers should prioritise outdoor activities as part of a child’s daily routine to support their vision development and overall growth.

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Play Outside!