Have you been outside lately? Spring is in full swing! The flowers are blooming, grass is green and there are baby animals everywhere. The weather is gorgeous with mild temperatures interspersed with some warmer days that are just begging to be enjoyed with ice cream and barbecues. However, in a world driven by technology, families have a tendency to stay indoors more and more frequently. This "nature deficit disorder" is described in detail by Richard Louv in his book "Last Child in the Woods."

With all the conveniences of the modern household (electricity, air conditioning, television, computers, video games, etc.) why do we ever need to go outside? Well, vitamin D is one good reason. Sunlight provides our bodies with this essential nutrient that has been shown to strengthen our immune system and may help prevent cancer, Alzheimer's disease and osteoporosis. Being outside also reduces the symptoms of ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder), especially in natural, park-like settings.

Being outdoors also naturally reduces stress and relieves tension. There is a reason that sound machines have options such as ocean waves, rain storms and bubbling brooks. Aside from the sights and sounds of nature, the smell of nature can create a calming effect as well. Lavender, mint and chamomile are a few of the many soothing scents that help the body to detox and calm down.

Or if you prefer action, going outside can help with that, too. There is so much to do outside to get you moving and on your way to a healthier life. People who spend time outdoors are more likely to be physically active than those who stay inside. This can help combat weight gain and reduce the risk of diabetes. Gardening is an easy way to not only burn calories but to also harvest some food or flowers for your table. Fishing and hunting are other activities that are not only fun and create family memories, but that can provide food for your family.

Another classic summer activity is water play. From sprinklers in the back yard to swimming in the big pool, a cool splash of water on a hot day can't be beat! And what better way to make some wonderful family memories than going outdoors and exploring nature together? Young children especially can benefit from being outdoors since the multi-sensory experience helps make connections in their brains that can increase their motor and language skills.

If you need a little help getting started, you can always stop by the zoo and take a stroll through our beautifully landscaped grounds while you enjoy observing our animals. Or you can visit one of Garden City's many parks to allow your little ones to burn off that extra energy.

So what are you waiting for? Between the health benefits and the memories that you will make, there really is no excuse not to go outside. No matter where you live or what you do, there is always the opportunity to explore nature. You don't need any fancy equipment or special plans; all you need is to open your door and step across the threshold. Have you been outside lately?

Be sure to visit our new website at www.leerichardsonzoo.org.