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Does Outside Playtime Improve Children's Eyesight?

Girls playing outside

Spending time outdoors offers important benefits for kids of all ages. Running, walking, skipping and jumping offers much-needed aerobic exercise, helps young people avoid childhood obesity and strengthens friendships. Although the social and physical benefits of outdoor time are well-documented, the effects of outdoor play on eyesight haven't been as well examined until recently.

Outdoor Play May Help Your Child Avoid Myopia

Myopia, or nearsightedness, is a refractive error that occurs when the eye lengthens from front to back. When this occurs, light rays are no longer focused directly on the retina, but appear slightly in front of it. As a result, close objects still look perfectly clear but far away objects are blurry.

Although myopia is often inherited, children who spend a great deal of time focusing on near objects may be more likely to develop the error. Kids who have myopia often squint when they read, can't see the blackboard or whiteboard at school clearly, have trouble seeing objects in the distance, develop frequent headaches or complain that their eyes hurt.

Eyeglasses and contact lenses can improve your child's eyesight, but it may be possible to prevent myopia from occurring simply by increasing the amount of time your child spends outdoors.

Research Studies Find a Link Between Myopia and Outdoor Play

Taiwanese schoolchildren who spent time outdoors during recess were less likely to develop myopia than those in a neighboring school who stayed indoors. Researchers also discovered that myopia did not progress as quickly in children who were already nearsighted if they played outdoors more often.

British researchers discovered that children who had myopia spent 3.7 fewer hours outside than children who had no vision problems or were farsighted. A similar study in Sydney, Australia followed more than 1,000 children aged 6 and 12 for two years. Not surprisingly, children who spent more time outdoors were less likely to have developed myopia by the end of the study. Those who spent more time on reading and other activities that required close vision and also spent more time indoors had a higher rate of nearsightedness.

Danish researchers measured eye length in another study that examined how the amount of daylight affected nearsighted children. The study, published in the May 2013 issue of Ophthalmology, noted that eye elongation and myopia progression were worse during the shorter winter days.

Children who took part in the studies didn't participate in any organized activities during the time they spent outside. Whether they simply sat on a swing, threw a ball or played tag, the benefits were the same. Researchers aren't quite sure why spending time outdoors reduces the incidence of myopia. They theorize that children may benefit by looking at objects in the distance while outdoors instead of focusing on near objects or that the effects of ultraviolet light may play a role.

Kids today are less likely to spend time outdoors due to elimination or reduction of outside recess in schools and the ready availability of video games, smartphones, tablets and other digital devices. Reminding them to put down their digital screens and enjoy the great outdoors may just lower the chance that they'll need glasses. If they're already nearsighted, their myopia may not progress quite as quickly if they spend a little time outside every day.

Has your child received a vision examination lately? Diagnosing and correcting nearsightedness, farsightedness, astigmatism and other refractive errors can help your son or daughter avoid eyestrain, headaches and other issues related to poor vision. Call us today to schedule your child's appointment.


National Eye Institute: Facts About Myopia, 7/17/12


Ophthalmology: Effect of Day Length on Eye Growth, Myopia Progression, and Change of Corneal Power in Myopic Children, 5/13


All About Vision: Myopia Causes – Is Your Child at Risk?


American Academy of Ophthalmology Journal: The Association Between Time Spent Outdoors and Myopia in Children and Adolescents, 7/17/12


Ophthalmology: Outdoor Activity Reduces the Prevalence of Myopia in Children, 8/08


American Optometric Association: Myopia