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Why the great outdoors is so good for children’s health

PUBLISHED: 06:50 15 February 2017

A family enjoying the great outdoors as they roast marshmallows over a campfire. 
Photo: PA Photo/thinkstockphotos.

A family enjoying the great outdoors as they roast marshmallows over a campfire. Photo: PA Photo/thinkstockphotos.

It’s not a word that slips easily off the tongue, friluftsliv, but it’s breezed in from Scandinavia as the latest health aid. It means free air life - in other words getting outdoors as much as you can and communing with nature.

The Famous Five's Survival guide which is based on some of Enid Blyton's original characters.The Famous Five's Survival guide which is based on some of Enid Blyton's original characters.

Medicos have long extolled the virtues of fresh air and vitamin-rich sunshine, and if we try to do without them, it can bring on what is now referred to as nature deficit disorder (NDD), resulting in lethargy, lack of concentration and low moods.

The new f-word comes from Norwegian Borge Dahle’s uninvitingly titled book Nature First: Outdoor Life the Friluftsliv Way, which is nevertheless exciting experts because it says that time spent in the countryside, park or open space decreases anger, depression and tension and is a chance to reflect and reconnect with life.

It is something we should note because a survey of 10 countries last year found that British children were among the most housebound in the world. Parents estimated their youngsters spent twice as much time on screens inside as they did playing outside.

It’s all come such a long different way from the days of Enid Blyton’s Famous Five series, the launch of which 75 years ago was celebrated in this paper the other day. The books were fiercely popular because young people at the time could sort of mirror their adventures in real life.

True, the exploits of the Famous Five were rather more exciting and dramatic than ours but, in the holidays and at weekends, we too were packed off early in the day with our bottles of home-made lemonade and Spam sandwiches and not expected to reappear until the evening.

Our gang camped in a small wood alongside the Waveney owned by my friend Ken Kent’s farmer father, lovely riverside land Ken later had registered as an area of outstanding beauty to stave off any chance of development.

It saw plenty of little dramas when we slept under a battered tarpaulin there, occasionally adding a bit of fizz to the old camp fire by tossing on the odd unexploded Nazi incendiary bomb, something that would have given our parents nightmares if they had known. But we came home fit, strong, tired and hungry.

This, minus the high explosives, is the message Borge Dahle and many others are desperate to embue into today’s screen-gorged young people – and their parents. Not only can getting out be fun but it certainly does you good and makes you feel better.

So, could friluftsliv be the new watchword?

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