When I wrote the title of this article, I cringed. I hated recess. I loved being outside, but I hated recess. And yet, I still think we need to bring back recess. Recess was when the big man on campus was told by the over-worked teacher to be the captain and pick teams for a game of keep away, or red rover red rover, or in later years, softball. Sensitive and awkward with my arms and legs getting too tall too quick, I lacked coordination and coolness to be picked — until there was no one else to pick.
While recess can be a stressful time with real-time problem solving without adult supervision, it serves it place: Kids are allowed to be kids, they learn to problem solve, and they get unencumbered free-play. Today, the scientific community acknowledges that kids need more than anything unscheduled, unplugged, fresh air.
According to the American Association for the Child’s Right to Play, as many as 40 percent of school districts in the United States have reduced recess in the aftermath of the No Child Left Behind Act, due to the fact we need to beef up test scores. But with everything there are unintended consequences.
Even the National Football League currently airs commercials promoting 60 minutes of physical activity. In the commercial, a multi-million dollar athlete happens to be walking down the street and stops off to play a round of catch with a group of neighborhood kids enjoying a sunny afternoon.
The backlash of less recess is clear: a rise of obesity in kids, behavioral issues from lack of properly channeled energy, and natural creativity smothered from lack of time to, well, stop and smell the roses.
While our children are very well our future, it is much like Annie Dillard stated, “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.” The need for fresh air doesn’t stop once we reach adulthood. If anything, it becomes vital as part of an overall health plan. Perhaps as adults we should lead our culture, our families, ourselves down a different path.
Fresh air, combined with free time and exercise and taking big deep breaths of beautiful oxygen, can boost your immune system, release tension and stress, and energize you physically and mentally.
Feeling sad and blue? Have you just heard your fourth cough down your row of cubicles? It may be time to step outside. Close quarters, at home or work, is a petri dish to all sorts of germs.
Even in cold weather, or rain, a simple walk outside can raise your immune system. “Exercise leads to an increase in natural killer cells, neutrophils and monocytes, which ultimately increases immune function,” Ather Ali, ND, MPH, assistant director of Complementary/Alternative Medicine Research at the Yale-Griffin Prevention Research Center, stated in Health.com.
Many of us exercise indoors. We preen in front of the workout mirror. We record our progress, upping the time and rigor of our treadmill. But we forget the intrinsic value fresh air offers – for free. We refuse to see ourselves as spinning and spinning on the wheel of our fast-paced life, deluding ourselves of our mortality, our importance. We make excuses for our lack of presence in our lives, neglecting the self-knowledge that busyness is a decision that we can control. We can also control our health choices, and fresh air may be the foundation of our mental health, which de-stresses us and give us the energy to exercise more and make long-term gains towards a healthier lifestyle, which in turn inspires and leads our families towards healthier endeavors.
Fresh air not only gets us out to exercise and lowers anxiety, but it also ups the ante on our mood, with the smells that sink into our sub-conscious. It’s true that the smell of roses promotes relaxation, as well as the fragrance of lavender and jasmine. A walk in the woods with the scent of pine trees can increase relaxation. And once we relax, we can practice the art of noticing, the art of listening to ourselves. Our creative self emerges, and we can problem solve, create, and ask provoking life-altering questions that can benefit ourselves, our families, our careers and our communities.
It starts with a deep breath and a walk. Soon you can build and relish that pocket of stillness in your day, in your life. The fresh air fills your lungs and opens your heart to reflect, to pray, to grow, and gives you the mental energy to be your truest version of yourself. Fresh air empowers us and fills us with our very essence for living.
And while recess in our school system is currently minimized, we can amplify the concept in our families. Seek fresh air and play time with people, and ideas, that magnify and celebrate the uniqueness of you. Find those people, those ideas, hold on to them and visit them often. Create your safe zone and pocket of stillness. Breathe deep, and intentionally, and enjoy a breath of fresh air.