Step outside

Spending time in a backyard green space is good for kids of all ages, and can relieve stress and anxiety due to COVID-19, writes Kris Kiser

You don’t have to go far to experience nature. It actually starts right outside your back door. Outside, you can listen to the birds, watch the trees and curl your toes in the grass. Numerous studies have found that people who spend more time outside with their families and pets exposed to living landscapes are happier, healthier and smarter.

Researchers have studied the impact of nature on human well-being for years, but recent studies have found a more direct correlation between human health, particularly related to stress, and the importance of access to nature and managed landscapes.

Get dirty. Mycobacterium vaccae in soil mirrors the effect on neurons that Prozac provides. The bacterium stimulates serotonin production, which explains why people who spend time in direct contact with soil feel more relaxed and happier. 

Get healthier. People who live within a half mile of green space were found to have a lower incidence of diseases by Dutch researchers — including depression, anxiety, heart disease, diabetes, asthma and migraines. Spending time in gardens can improve memory performance and attention span by 20 percent.

Get smarter. Children gain attention and working memory benefits when they are exposed to greenery, says a study led by Payam Dadvand of the Centre for Research in Environmental Epidemiology in Barcelona. In addition, exposure to natural settings may be widely effective in reducing attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder symptoms in children.

Play a family game. If you have a small patch of grass, you have a badminton court, a croquet field, or a soccer field. Throw a ball to the dog. Run through the sprinkler if your area isn’t in a drought condition.

Play with pets or foster a rescue animal. No one appreciates the yard more than a pet. Science also has shown pets have a stress-reducing effect on people and kids. So, get outside with your furry family member and let them remind you of the joys of the outdoors.

Dine outdoors. Have a family picnic right in your backyard or set up a table and chairs to have family meals in the sun or under a shade tree.

Educate yourself. It’s a great time to get educated about climate-zone-appropriate plants, and how backyards can support local wildlife. Once the preliminary research is done, conduct a plant inventory to determine what’s currently thriving in your backyard.

Plant something. Help an adult with a garden, or ask them to help you order garden supplies online or have them delivered from your local nursery.

Keep pollinators in mind. Birds, bees, butterflies, bats, and other creatures are critical to our food supply and a healthy environment. Backyards are an important part of the connected ecosystem providing much-needed food and shelter for pollinators, so select a variety of plants that will bloom all year long. The Audubon Society’s database can help determine which birds will be attracted to which plants for unique regions so good choices about what to plant can be made. 

Your backyard is your safe space. Science has proven that simply spending time in our family yards is good for human health and well-being, which is important today as everyone seeks creative ways to stay well while being confined to their homes. The backyard is safe space. So throw a ball, plant a butterfly bush and get your hands in the dirt, but do get off the Internet and take a break from being cooped up inside.