Exposure to green spaces could be more important than ever for children now that the Covid-19 lockdown is over, a new study suggests.
Researchers compared the mental health of more than 3,000 children in the London area to their proximity to green spaces.
Those who were closer to forests had better cognitive development and a lower risk of emotional and behavioral problems, they found.
Worryingly, the data was collected before the pandemic, which means health concerns were likely exacerbated by a lack of natural space during the lockdown.
The study could influence planning decisions in urban areas around the world, according to the authors from University College London and Imperial College London.
Building new homes close to grass, trees and woods could optimize âthe benefits of cognitive development and mental health,â they say.
Lack of access to green spaces is linked to lower cognitive development, as well as a lower risk of emotional and behavioral problems, report researchers from London
WALK AND MENTAL HEALTH
Walking improves well-being and helps fight stress and depression
– Walking, like other physical activities, releases endorphins which improve mood and reduce stress and anxiety
– Feeling more fit and controlling your weight helps improve body image and self-confidence
– Active people have a reduced risk of suffering from clinical depression
– Walking in a group is a social activity that can help improve mental health and overcome feelings of isolation
– Spending time outdoors and in contact with the natural environment – for example walking in parks, woods and green spaces – can have a positive effect on mental health
It is already estimated that one in ten children and adolescents in London between the ages of five and 16 have a clinical mental health illness.
This results in additional costs of between Â£ 11,030 and Â£ 59,130 ââper year for each child, according to the government, paid by social services and other agencies – so more green space could be the solution.
The authors stress the importance of nature for children and adults to improve our health, although they have not specifically determined that one factor causes the other.
“A possible explanation for our results could be that audiovisual exposure through vegetation and animal abundance provides psychological benefits, both of which are expected to be most abundant in the woods,” said the author of l study, Professor Kate Jones of University College London (UCL).
âAlthough our results show that the urban forest is associated with cognitive development and adolescent mental health, the cause of this association remains unknown.
“Further research is fundamental to our understanding of the links between nature and health.”
Interestingly, not all types of natural environment may equally contribute to physical and mental health benefits, research also found.
For the study, academics used anonymized longitudinal data for 3,568 children and adolescents, aged nine to 15, from 31 schools across London between 2014 and 2018.
The age of 9 to 15 is a key time in the development of children’s thinking, reasoning and understanding of the world, according to the team.
The experts used data from 3,568 children and adolescents, aged 9 to 15, from 31 schools across London. Pictured is Primrose Hill Park in North London at sunrise
DOCTORS HAVE INDICATED TO PRESCRIBE CONTRACTS
Doctors have been asked to prescribe green spaces to improve the physical and mental health of patients.
In a speech in July 2020, Environment Secretary George Eustice said that instead of just handing out pills, GPs and other healthcare professionals could start issuing “green prescriptions” telling patients to visit British beauty spots.
As part of the Â£ 4million scheme, doctors are also urging people to garden, join biking and walking groups, participate in outdoor ‘green gym’ sessions and even help out. to plant trees in their area.
The plan could also be used to send vulnerable people – such as residents of care homes – by coach to UK national parks and areas of outstanding natural beauty.
In an online speech to the Green Alliance, Mr Eustice pledged that nature would be at the heart of efforts to restart the economy after the pandemic.
Read more: Doctors are asked to prescribe country walks
Mental health and general well-being came from self-reported questionnaires, covering areas such as emotional issues, driving, hyperactivity and peer issues.
Satellite data was used to help calculate the rate of daily exposure of each child to natural environments within 164 feet (50 meters), 330 feet (100 meters), 820 feet (250 meters) and 1,640 feet (500 meters) from home and school.
Natural environments have been divided into what urban planners call green spaces (woods, meadows and parks) and blue spaces (rivers, lakes and sea).
The green spaces have also been separated into meadows and woods.
After adjusting for other variables, higher daily exposure to forests (but not grasslands) was linked to higher scores for cognitive development and a 17% lower risk of emotional and behavioral problems two years later.
A similar but weaker effect was observed for green spaces, with higher scores for cognitive development.
This was not observed for blue space, although access to blue space in the cohort studied was generally low, the team pointed out.
Examples of variables taken into account included the youth’s age, ethnicity, gender, parents’ occupation, and type of school – such as state or self-employed.
The level of air pollution influenced the cognitive development of adolescents in some calculations, but not in all, but these observations were not “reliable or conclusive”.
âWhen it comes to adults, there is evidence that natural environments play an important role in the cognitive development and mental health of children and adolescents in adulthood,â the team says in its research paper – but less is known about the reasons.
In the absence of green spaces, there may be artificial alternatives, as the author of the study MikaÃ«l Maes at UCL explains.
âThe forest bath, for example – being immersed in the sights, sounds and smells of a forest – is a relaxation therapy that has been associated with physiological benefits, supporting human immune function, reducing the variability of heart rate and salivary cortisol, and various psychological benefits, ‘he said.
“However, the reasons why we experience these psychological benefits from the forest remain unknown.”
The limitations of the study, published in Nature Sustainability, include the hypothesis that living or going to school near natural environments means greater exposure to them, which is not always the case. .
In addition, a considerable proportion of the participants (52.21 per cent) belonged to the group whose parents were in a managerial or professional occupation, so adolescents from less favorable socio-economic groups may be under-represented.
WEEKLY AWE MARKETS CAN REINFORCE POSITIVE EMOTIONS AND REDUCE STRESS: STUDY 2020
Taking a 15-minute “awesome walk” each week, where we stop to appreciate the world around us, can help stimulate positive emotions and reduce stress, study finds.
The study’s authors, from the University of California, San Francisco, believe that walking improves our state of mind even more if we take note of the beauty of everything around us.
These âawesome walks,â where we soak up nature, architecture and more, can stimulate healthy âprosocialâ emotions such as compassion and gratitude.
After analyzing the selfies taken on these walks over the course of eight weeks, US experts have found that âawesome walksâ can also make us smile more.
The team recruited 52 healthy seniors through UCSF’s long-standing Hilblom Healthy Aging Study.
They asked each of these participants to do at least one 15-minute walk every week for eight weeks.
Half of the study participants were asked to reproduce the emotion of fear during their walks, soaking up the details of the world around them. The others in the “control group” were not.
After each walk, participants completed short surveys, detailing the characteristics of the walk and the emotions they had experienced, including questions designed to ârate their experience of fearâ.
People in the “dread group” reported an increasing experience of fear during their walks as the study continued, the experts found.
Read more: 15-Minute “Awesome Walks” in Nature Boost Emotional Well-Being