Exposure to green space may be more important than ever for children now that the Covid-19 lockdown has ended, a new study suggests.
Researchers compared the mental health of more than 3,000 children in the London area with their proximity to green spaces.
Those closer to forests had better cognitive development and a lower risk of emotional and behavioral problems, they found.
Worryingly, data was collected before the pandemic, meaning health problems were likely exacerbated by a lack of natural space during the lockdown.
According to the authors of University College London and Imperial College London, the study could influence planning decisions in urban areas around the world.
Building new homes in close proximity to grass, trees and forest could optimize “benefits linked to cognitive development and mental health,” they say.
Lack of access to green space is linked to lower cognitive development, as well as a lower risk of emotional and behavioral problems, researchers in London report
WALKING AND MENTAL HEALTH
Walking improves well-being and helps fight stress and depression
– Walking, like other physical activities, releases endorphins that improve mood and reduce stress and anxiety
– Feeling fitter and controlling your weight helps improve your body image and confidence
– Active people have a reduced risk of 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 by walking in parks, forests and green spaces – can have a positive effect on mental health
Source: The Ramblers
It is already estimated that one in ten London children and adolescents between the ages of five and sixteen suffers from a clinical mental illness.
This leads to additional costs of between £11,030 and £59,130 per child per year, according to the government, paid for by social services and other agencies – so more green space could be the answer.
The authors emphasize the importance of nature for children and adults in improving our health, although they have not specifically determined that one factor causes the other.
“A possible explanation for our findings could be that audiovisual exposure through vegetation and animal abundance provides psychological benefits, both of which are characteristics expected in greater amounts in forests,” said study author Professor Kate Jones of University College London (UCL).
‘Although our results show that urban forest is associated with adolescent cognitive development and 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 every type of natural environment can contribute to physical and mental health benefits equally, the study also found.
For the study, the academics used anonymized longitudinal data covering 3,568 children and teenagers, ages nine to 15, from 31 schools in London between 2014 and 2018.
According to the team, ages nine to 15 are an important time in the development of thinking, reasoning and understanding the world in children.
The experts used data relating to 3,568 children and teenagers, ages nine to 15, from 31 schools across London. Pictured, Primrose Hill Park in North London at sunrise
DOCTORS TOLD TO PRESCRIBE WALKS
Doctors have been told to prescribe green spaces to improve patients’ physical and mental health.
In a July 2020 speech, Environment Minister George Eustice said that instead of just handing out pills, GPs and other health professionals could start writing ‘green prescriptions’ telling patients to visit Britain’s beauty spots.
Under the £4 million scheme, doctors are urging people to garden, join cycling and walking groups, take part in outdoor ‘green gym’ sessions and even plant trees in their homes. surroundings.
The plan could also be used to send vulnerable people – such as residents of care homes – on bus trips to Britain’s national parks and areas of outstanding natural beauty.
In an online speech to the Green Alliance, Mr Eustice pledged that nature will be at the center of efforts to restart the economy after the pandemic.
Read more: Doctors told to prescribe countryside walks
Mental health and general well-being came from self-reported questionnaires, which covered emotional problems, behavior, hyperactivity and peer problems, among other things.
Satellite data was used to calculate each child’s daily exposure to natural environments within 50 meters, 100 meters, 250 meters and 500 meters from home and school.
Natural environments were divided into what planners call green space (forests, meadows, and parks) and blue space (rivers, lakes, and the sea).
The greenery was also further separated into grassland and forest.
After adjusting for other variables, higher daily exposure to forest (but not grassland) was linked to higher cognitive development scores and a 17 percent lower risk of emotional and behavioral problems two years later.
A similar but smaller effect was seen for green space, with higher scores for cognitive development.
This was not seen for blue space, although access to blue space in the cohort studied was generally low, the team pointed out.
Examples of variables considered were age, ethnic background, gender, parental occupation, and school type – such as state or independent.
Air pollution levels affected adolescents’ cognitive development in some, but not all, calculations, but these observations were not “reliable or convincing.”
“As for adults, there is some evidence that natural environments play an important role in the cognitive development and mental health of children and adolescents into adulthood,” the team says in their research paper – but less is known about why this is so.
If there is no green space, there may be artificial alternatives, explains UCL study author Mikaël Maes.
“Forest bathing, for example — being immersed in the sights, sounds and smells of a forest — is a relaxation therapy associated with physiological benefits, supporting human immune function, reducing heart rate variability and salivary cortisol, and several psychological benefits,” he said.
“However, the reasons why we experience these psychological benefits of forest remain unknown.”
Limitations of the study, published in Nature Sustainability, include the assumption that living or going to school near natural environments means more exposure to natural environments, which may not always be the case.
Also, a significant proportion of participants (52.21 percent) were in the group whose parents had a managerial or professional occupation, so adolescents in less favorable socioeconomic groups may be underrepresented.
WEEKLY ‘AWE WALKS’ CAN STRENGTHEN POSITIVE EMOTIONS AND REDUCE STRESS: STUDY 2020
Taking a 15-minute “awe-walk” every week, stopping to appreciate the world around us, can help stimulate positive emotions and reduce stress, a study shows.
The authors of the study, from the University of California, San Francisco, believe that walking boosts our moods even more when we take a note to take in the beauty of everything around us.
These ‘awe-walks’, where we enjoy nature, architecture and more, can stimulate healthy ‘pro-social’ emotions such as compassion and gratitude.
After analyzing selfies taken during walks of these walks over the course of eight weeks, the US experts found that “awe walks” can also make us smile more.
The team recruited 52 healthy older adults from the UCSF’s long-term Hilblom Healthy Aging Study program.
They asked each of these participants to take at least a 15-minute walk every week for eight weeks.
Half of the study participants were asked to mimic the emotion of awe during their walks, taking in details of the world around them. The rest, in the ‘control group’, did not.
After each walk, participants completed short surveys, detailing the characteristics of the walk and the emotions they experienced, including questions designed to “assess their experience of awe.”
People in the “awe group” reported growing in awe on their walks as the study progressed, the experts found.
Read more: 15 Minutes of ‘Awe Walks’ in Nature Boosts Emotional Well-Being