Play outside

Spending time outdoors provides more than fresh air-it’s a good way to improve physical and mental health. And the upcoming Play Outside Weekend in the Wayne National Forest is a great opportunity to start taking advantage of nature’s benefits.

Marietta residents Danny and Samantha Franchino took their first family camping trip during the Play Outside Weekend at Leith Run Recreation Area a couple of years ago.

“The kids absolutely loved it, and there was so much for them to do,” Samantha said. “We’re enjoying the outdoors more, and like to hike in the Hocking Hills area when we can find the time. We want to spend more time outdoors with the kids now-there’s something that improves your mood by just being outside in the summer.”

According to the Harvard Medical School, those who get outside often may be better protected against some major ailments, including depression, cancer and heart attacks, as well as benefiting from more exercise and improving concentration.

Rabia Karim, Creating Healthy Communities coordinator for the Washington County Health Department, agrees.

“Getting involved in outdoor activities increases your level of physical activity, meaning less time in front of the TV and more spent moving around outside,” she said.

Karim said being outdoors elevates levels of Vitamin D for both kids and adults.

“Vitamin D is beneficial because it helps fight certain health conditions, such as osteoporosis,” she said. “And many studies show that children involved in outdoor activities can focus better and increase their mental wellbeing.”

In fact, research has indicated that concentration improves for children with ADHD when they’re outdoors, according to the Harvard report.

Tami Tuten, associate professor of early childhood development at Washington State Community College, calls herself a real “nature advocate.”

“We once did a ‘woods project’ and took 4-year-olds out into some of the wooded areas on campus,” she said. “We found their playing was more substantial and inventive, and the children seemed to be more cooperative with each other. And they were more focused when they returned to the classroom.”

Tuten said researchers are just beginning to understand the impact being out in nature has on both children and adults, and it’s especially important for youngsters to be exposed to the outdoors.

She said one way to help improve playgrounds for children would be to make them more nature-oriented, with plenty of trees and grass to play on.

Another important benefit of outdoor activities is weight management, Karim said. Staying active in the outdoors helps shed unwanted weight, increases metabolism and helps lower blood pressure.

“Some great outdoors activities might include walking, biking, hiking, playing a favorite sport, gardening, swimming, kayaking, or just playing at the local playground,” she said. “Just keep in mind while playing outdoors to drink plenty of water and stay hydrated.”

In collaboration with local partners, the Wayne National Forest is hosting Play Outside Weekend to encourage healthy, active outdoor fun, all in support of National Get Outdoors Day (GO Day) on Saturday.

The weekend starts Friday at 5 p.m., with the Ohio Department of Natural Resources Passport to Fishing program, a hot dog roast, and horse & buggy rides at Lamping Homestead in Monroe County.

At 9 p.m., enjoy a night sky viewing aided by telescopes at one of the darkest spots in Ohio.

On Saturday, starting at 9:30 a.m., the Leith Run Recreation Area (located north of Marietta on the Ohio River Scenic Byway) will be the center of most of the day’s activities.

Daytime activities will include Passport to Fishing, archery, orienteering, water safety, mountain bike skills (bring your helmet and bike), rock wall climbing, a K-9 police dog demonstration and disc golf.

At the recreation area’s River Shelter, come learn about local land and water critters and touch live reptiles. Lunch will be provided to participants.

From 2 to 4 p.m., the nearby Kinderhook Horse Trailhead will feature horseback rides.