Why outdoor sport makes winners of us all

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Why outdoor sport makes winners of us all

A question for parents: Do you normally allow your children to play sport outdoors? If so, for how long? I know many parents who do not out of fear their children might get heat stroke, for example. 
I know Saudi Arabia’s climate does not usually help, with high temperatures and perennial sunshine creating a difficult environment for sporting activity. But on the other hand, it is important that every child builds up their immune system early on and gets enough sunshine, so they do not end up with vitamin D deficiency. It is well known that a lack of vitamin D increases the risk of injury and and hinders prolonged recovery. The vitamin can also play a major role in the prevention and treatment of different diseases, including diabetes, osteoporosis, hypertension and multiple sclerosis. 
In 2007, a review published in the New England Journal of Medicine said that 30 to 50 percent of adults and children who covered up were vitamin D deficient — even in sunny areas of Australia, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia and India. Studies have also revealed that more than 70 percent of Arab women are deficient in the vitamin.
I am not going to talk further about the medical side of the question, but about the social side instead — how the experience of playing sport is reflected in the child’s social behavior growing up, for example. 

Over the past two years Saudi Arabia has initiated major sporting developments. These have included integrating new sidewalks and parks in cities, and promoting suitable sports such as cycling, hiking, diving, and jet ski, based on the geographical nature of each location. 

Dr. Razan Baker

First, children playing outside are more willing to meet and compete with their peers who share the same passion in sport. Second, children get closer to nature and respect the environment, trying to keep it neat and clean. Third, playing sport outdoors makes it easier for them to release all their negative energies — in short, nature makes them happier. 
According to a study carried out in Australia in 2016, children’s physical and mental health benefits from contact with nature. Spending more time outdoors also leads to positive changes in behavior, improving concentration, for example. 
Another study found that dinghy sailing had a profound effect on children aged from 9 to 13. It helped develop key life skills, self-esteem and, ultimately, improved their performance in the classroom — what an amazing bonus from nature.
Over the past two years Saudi Arabia has initiated major sporting developments. These have included integrating new sidewalks and parks in cities, and promoting suitable sports such as cycling, hiking, diving, and jet ski, based on the geographical nature of each location. 
Now, especially as we are enjoying the best season of the year, families tend to enjoy time outdoors with their children whether its playing sport or just leisure activities in general. This is obviously a good thing, but there is clearly more things we can all do to promote getting outside and encouraging every household to get active.
Countries with similar climates go through similar situations, especially during summer. A good example is Spain, where they enjoy their siesta, or afternoon
nap. Perhaps we should have a similar siesta in Saudi Arabia? Either way we need to find ways to get out more often and play sport. There are few downsides and a host of positives. 

  • Dr. Razan Baker is a member of the board of directors at the Saudi Bowling Federation, a specialist in corporate social responsibility in sports, and a sports columnist and journalist.
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