Myopia or nearsightedness is a common refractive error affecting millions of individuals worldwide, both young and old where this vision issue typically emerges in childhood when the eyes are still in the growth phase. It occurs when the eyes elongate too much from front to back, known as axial length.
In an interview with HT Lifestyle, Dr Aloka Hedau, Pediatric Ophthalmologist and Squint Surgeon at Dr Aloka’s Eye Care in Hyderabad, explained, “In myopia, light entering the eye converges in front of the retina instead of directly on it, leading to blurred distance vision. While myopia can have a hereditary component, lifestyle factors like extended screen time and prolonged engagement in near vision activities can also contribute to its development.”
He elaborated, “The modern trend of spending more time indoors, often engrossed in video games and television, has led to a significant reduction in outdoor activities for children. Research indicates that dedicating just one hour to outdoor activities each day can reduce the risk of myopia development in children by over 14 percent. This highlights the importance of outdoor time in visual health.”
The Benefits of Outdoor Play for Children’s Eyes
According to Dr Aloka Hedau, encouraging outdoor activities for children, whether they already have myopia or not, can play a significant role in delaying its onset or slowing its progression. He highlighted:
Sunlight provides much brighter visible light compared to indoor settings, which is crucial for myopia management. Studies suggest that sunlight triggers the release of dopamine into the eye when it reaches the retina. This release may help prevent excessive elongation of the eye, a key goal in myopia management. Children who spend a minimum of 2-3 hours outdoors under sunlight tend to show slower myopia progression compared to those who predominantly stay indoors.
- Engaging in Distant Views
Prolonged engagement in near activities like reading and screen time is known to contribute to myopia. Recent studies indicate that the Covid-19 pandemic, with its increased indoor time, may have led to higher myopia rates in children. Spending time outdoors encourages children to focus on distant objects, such as trees or sports activities, which are more than an arm’s length away.
Vitamin D plays a role in regulating the smooth muscle tissue around the eye’s crystalline lens, facilitating proper function. This muscle helps focus light on the retina and may contribute to maintaining the right eye shape and length. The sun’s UVB light, although invisible, stimulates Vitamin D production. Some studies suggest that nearsighted individuals may have lower Vitamin D levels compared to those with normal vision, but further research is needed for conclusive evidence.
It is recommended that children over the age of 6 engage in at least 2 hours of outdoor play each day. When sending your child outdoors, ensure they have essentials like a water bottle, sun hat, sunglasses, and sunscreen for a safe and enjoyable experience.
Encouraging Outdoor Play: Tips for Parents
If parents are struggling to entice their child away from screens and into the outdoors, Dr Aloka Hedau recommended they can consider these strategies to make outdoor time more appealing –
- Active Participation: Engaging in outdoor activities with the child not only encourages them to spend more time outside but also allows parents to reap the benefits of sunshine.
- Explore Fresh Playgrounds: Discovering different playgrounds each week can add an element of excitement. The novelty of a new slide, swing, or climbing area can turn the outing into an adventure for the child.
- Cultivate Sporting Interests: If the child associates outdoor time with playing their favorite sport, they’re more likely to choose it over digital devices. Parents can challenge them to a game or join a sports activity together.
- Embark on Nature Trails: Encouraging outdoor exploration by seeking out new hiking trails. Nature-rich environments not only motivate the child to step outside but also foster a deeper connection with the natural world.
- Set up an Entertaining Scavenger Hunt: Engage the child’s sense of adventure by organizing a scavenger hunt. Searching for hidden treasures or prizes not only promotes outdoor play but also nurtures creativity in outdoor activities.
Dr Aloka Hedau concluded, “Fostering a love for the outdoors not only contributes to a child’s physical well-being but also plays a crucial role in safeguarding their vision. The benefits of outdoor play in myopia management are substantial and by incorporating these strategies, parents can pave the way for a healthier, more balanced lifestyle for their children.”