Getting outside has many benefits. It can boost your mood, reduce stress and promote relaxation.
And now, according to a recent study, researchers have found that the outdoors can also improve children’s health, specifically lung function.
The study suggests that surrounding children between birth and their 10th birthday with a home life that has green spaces can lead to better lung function. And because urban areas tend to have limited access to green space, the study also emphasizes the need for nature in urban settings, according to a press release.
“We know that early childhood is a crucial time for lungs to grow and develop, and that a child’s environment and the air they breathe can have an impact on their lung health for the rest of their life,” says Professor Marielle Pijnenburg in a press release, who is the head of the pediatric assembly of the European Respiratory Society and was not involved in the research.
According to the press release, Dr. Diogo Queiroz Almeida from the University of Porto, Portugal led the study that included 3278 children living in and around Porto. After using satellite data and assessing the amount of green space near the children’s homes, researchers gauged the children’s lung function by their forced vital capacity (FVC).
Based on the FVC, researchers could determine the maximum amount of air the child could blow out after taking their deepest breath. This then revealed how well the children’s lungs were working. They did this process for the children when they were born, at four, seven and ten years old.
“We found that living in greener neighborhoods as children grow up is more important for their breathing than living in a green area when they were born. This may be because babies spend much less time outdoors than children,” says Queiroz Almeida in a press release.
As a child’s home became greener, either due to environmental changes or moving to a new house, their lung function became healthier.
“Our research suggests the greener, the better. These improvements are modest at around two percent. However, if we look at the whole population, making our neighborhoods greener could have a considerable impact,” says Queiroz Almeida in a press release. “We looked at factors like physical activity and air pollution, but the link between lung function and moving closer to green space remained, even after we took these into account. It could also be that getting closer to nature reduces stress, which can improve physical health, or it might have a positive effect on children’s microbiome — the community of different bacteria that live in our bodies.”
Queiroz Almeida recommends creating more green spaces in urban areas, since house prices usually dictate where families can live. Some families just can’t afford to live in greener neighborhoods.
“To reduce health inequalities, we need to make our cities greener, especially in areas where there is little or no green space. In particular, we need to involve children and their carers to make sure our parks and gardens suit their needs,” says Queiroz Almeida in a press release.
More studies are needed though, and researchers continue to look at the role of nature for children’s health, and how and why younger people use green spaces.