We all know that it’s important for children to play outside, but a new European study reveals that making that outside space green is even more beneficial than you might have ever imagined. The research finds a strong link between greenery and a well-functioning immune system.
Conducted by the University of Helsinki, the study took place at ten urban daycare centers in Finland with standard cement and gravel outdoor spaces.
Workers at some of the daycares laid down grass and planted some forest undergrowth such as blueberries and dwarf heather. Children were also allowed to spend time tending to crops in planter boxes.
At a few of the other daycares, the kids were taken for daily nature walks. The kids played as usual in the concrete yards at the remaining centers.
In just 28 days, the results were pretty amazing!
Compared to the children who played in the typical urban spaces, the kids exposed to the greenery showed increased T-cells in their blood and improvements in other critical immune markers.
According to environmental scientist Marja Roslund from the University of Helsinki, they also found that “the intestinal microbiota of children who received greenery was similar to the intestinal microbiota of children visiting the forest every day.”
This was a small study, and there will need to be larger ones done to further explore this idea.
But it does appear to support, as the authors of the study wrote, “the biodiversity hypothesis and the concept that low biodiversity in the modern living environment may lead to an un-educated immune system and consequently increase the prevalence of immune-mediated diseases.”
Past studies have also shown that children exposed to nature are more likely to grow up and become environmentalists (yet another positive result of playing outside).
So, while not every child is in a position to play in and explore greenspace as much as we may want, providing those opportunities whenever possible appears to be something we should make a priority.