boys playing outside

Children who spend more time playing outside are less likely to become nearsighted. That’s the conclusion from a study of 5,700 Dutch youngsters who were followed from birth to age six.

What Are the Benefits of Playing Outside?

The researchers analyzed multiple factors, including household income, parental education and children’s activities. When the kids were six they got a complete medical and eye exam. At that time, 137 of them (2.4%) were diagnosed with myopia.

What Was Different about the Nearsighted Youngsters?

These children had spent more time indoors and spent less time playing sports than the kids with normal vision. In addition, myopic children had lower vitamin D levels and higher body mass index. All of these factors could correlate pretty well with spending more time inside, away from the sun, in sedentary pursuits.

The authors conclude that environmental factors, especially playing outside, have an important impact of children’s vision.

Tideman et al, British Journal of Ophthalmology, online, June 12, 2017 

Other Studies Agree That Time Outside Is Important:

This is not the first study to find that children who spend more time playing outside are less likely to become nearsighted. Primary school children who spent more time studying indoors developed longer eyes (Guo et al, PLOS One, April 27, 2017). The elongation of the eye is often associated with myopia.

A review of research found that, while time playing outside can prevent myopia, it cannot reverse the eye changes once they have occurred (Xiong et al, Acta Ophthalmologica, March 2, 2017). Japanese researchers found that violet light in the outdoor sunlight spectrum helps prevent nearsightedness (Torii et al, EBioMedicine, Feb. 2017).

Playing Outside at School:

A study in Barcelona also found that children who spent more time playing outside in green spaces were less likely to need glasses in three years (Dadvand et al, Environmental Research, Jan. 2017). One randomized controlled trial found that adding 40 minutes of recess to the primary school day reduced the number of students developing myopia over three years (He et al, JAMA, Sep. 15, 2015).

Children can also stay fit by playing outside. If they don’t have safe outdoor play spaces at home, they should be playing outside while at school.

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  1. P M
    Mount Vernon WA

    Has it occurred to anyone that kids who don’t play much outside are ALREADY nearsighted? Both my parents were seriously nearsighted but it never occurred to them that I might be too, until my vision was finally checked at age 6 because I couldn’t read the blackboard at school! Getting my first glasses then was like being born again; blurry colored lights were actually readable signs!

    But my vision still got progressively worse, even when I went to contacts in my 20s, and the only thing that stopped it was cataract surgery in my 60s that took me from off-the-charts nearsighted to almost 20-20. In high school, my boyfriend (and eventual husband) was notably farsighted, and very athletic in all outdoor sports; my daughter’s vision is good, and my son was slightly nearsighted until he had Lasix surgery.

    I’ve always been a sedentary “indoors” person and an avid reader, and all through school I had a higher-than-average IQ, so I’ve always assumed that thick glasses indicated intelligence!

  2. Mary

    I suspect a little more sunlight would be good for adult eyes as well. Just don’t look directly at the sun.

    Sunlight on closed eyelids can feel wonderful for a few minutes when the sun is not at its most intense.

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