history at a glance
- Greater contact with nature has been linked to a variety of health benefits, including reduced stress and improved mental health.
- New research from a cohort of Portuguese children shows that proximity to green spaces can also have benefits for lung health.
- The study’s authors argue that the results underscore the importance of increasing green space in urban environments.
In the past, studies have highlighted the important mental health benefits of spending time in nature. Now, a new study published in the European Respiratory Journal underscores how being close to nature can lead to physical health benefits, especially in children.
Using data from Generation XXI, a population-based cohort in Portugal, the researchers conducted a longitudinal study of 3,278 children. The results showed that children exposed to vegetation near their home during the first 10 years of life had superior lung function.
Based on these results, families might consider moving to greener areas, the authors noted. However, as economic pressures discourage some from relocating, urban environments could also work to better integrate green spaces into their landscapes.
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“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 caregivers to ensure our parks and gardens meet their needs,” said study co-author Diogo Queiroz Almeida, from the University of Porto, Portugal, in a press release.
Despite the positive results, the mechanism for the association remains unknown. Almeida hypothesized that the positive effects could be due to the physical benefits of reducing stress in nature or to changes in children’s microbiome.
Researchers assessed proximity to green spaces in the trapped children at birth and at ages 4, 7 and 10 while measuring average exposure, early life (birth) exposure and exposure trend over time. Satellite data and maps were used to measure geographic pressure from vegetation.
Once children reached age 10, investigators performed three tests to classify lung health. These tests measure the maximum amount of air that you blow out after taking your deepest breath.
Exposure to vegetation within 100 meters of a child’s home was associated with higher scores on two of the three tests over time, while results were consistent regardless of factors such as air pollution or physical activity.”
Although the reported improvements were modest at about 2 percent, researchers said that a greener neighborhood could have a significant impact on the population at large.
“We know that early childhood is a crucial time for lung growth and development, and that a child’s environment and the air they breathe can impact their lung health for the rest of their life,” added Marielle Pijnenburg by European Respiratory Society in the same issue. Pijnenburg was not involved in the investigation.
“This finding adds to a growing body of studies showing health benefits of making our neighborhoods greener and healthier,” Pijnenburg said.
Released on July 27, 2022