Most of us know that exposure to nature is associated with several health benefits – better mental health, physical health and cognitive development. Now, recent research has found that children who had close contact with the environment while growing up, turn into adults with fewer mental health issues than those who didn’t.
The effect of exposure to nature during childhood
A study published in the “International Journal of Environmental Health Research” used data from almost 3,600 adults. Participants answered a questionnaire focusing on the frequency of use of natural spaces during childhood. This included hiking in natural parks, playing in the back yard etc. They were also asked about how often they currently use natural spaces and how important such spaces are to them.
A psychological test then assessed:
- The mental health of the participants in terms of nervousness and feelings of depression
- Vitality, energy, fatigue levels.
Adults who had more exposure to natural spaces during their childhood had fewer problems related to mental health compared to those with less exposure to nature while growing up.
The conclusions of this study thus show the importance of childhood exposure to natural spaces in nurturing an attitude that appreciates natural surroundings and developing a healthy psychological state in adulthood.
Growing up near green spaces
A similar study from Denmark shows that kids who grew up surrounded by nature have up to 55% less chance of developing various mental disorders later in life. The research used satellite data spanning from 1985 to 2013, to map the proximity of green spaces to the childhood homes of 943,027 Danes. The study then compared data on mental health outcomes for that population to access to green space.
- Being close to green space makes a big difference when it comes to the risk of developing one of 16 different mental disorders later in life.
- Being surrounded by more green space consistently throughout childhood is linked with an even lower risk of having a psychiatric disorder.
Nature makes kids smarter
Another study in Barcelona studied the cognitive development of two groups of children over the course of a year (while also controlling for family history and socio-economic status). One group had schools with more green space, the other group has less access to green space at school.
The children at the schools with more green space had higher cognitive development than those who had access to less green space.
Why is this?
It’s not clear exactly why children with access to green space develop better mental health than those who don’t. But we do know that being in nature comes with a host of benefits, such as encouraging physical activity, improved cognition, higher satisfaction levels and more.
Some of the reasons for this could include:
- Urban environments are stressful – with infection, noise, air pollution and poor socio-economic conditions increasing the risk of developing a mental disorder.
- There’s less space for children to vent. For example, coming back from school to a garden or a nearby park helps children restore their mental capacity faster.
Don’t wait until it’s too late
“As a child, one has that magical capacity to move among the many eras of the earth; to see the land as an animal does; to experience the sky from the perspective of a flower or a bee; to feel the earth quiver and breathe beneath us; to know a hundred different smells of mud and listen unselfconsciously to the soughing of the trees.” – Valerie Andrews, A Passion for this Earth
Over 50% of the world’s population now lives in cities, and this number is climbing steadily. Although cities provide better access to jobs, education and healthcare, this could come at the expense of people’s overall health and wellbeing.
Added to this problem is an increasingly indoor culture of screen time and sedentary activities; even if children do have access to nature and green space, they may prefer to spend time indoors. Parents’ perceptions of safety threats may also impact the amount of time children spend cooped up in ‘safety’ rather than exploring the outdoors.
Exposing your children to nature frequently and from a young age can help them become well-adjusted, healthy adults.
At Tugela Trails, our outdoor holiday camps and outdoor education programmes give kids the chance to explore the great outdoors. Get in touch to find out more about our outdoor adventures: https://www.tugelatrails.co.za/contact/.
- Children living close to nature develop better mental and physical health – Devdiscourse – https://www.devdiscourse.com/article/agency-wire/533018-children-living-close-to-nature-develop-better-mental-and-physical-health–
- The growing evidence that living near green space helps kids grow up to be happier – Quartz – https://qz.com/1559863/kids-who-grow-up-near-green-space-have-better-mental-health/