Why Time Outdoors Can Increase Kids' Ability to Focus

by Parent Co. November 15, 2017

boy with girl play hide and seek in the forest

When I moved to North Carolina after several years of living in New York City and Boston, the first thing that struck me was how green it was. I couldn’t stop talking about it. I kept telling my family up North, “It’s just so… green here!” While the lush greenery continues to feel like a nice perk of living here, new research shows that it might also be majorly beneficial for my two kids and their developing brains.

Researchers at the Barcelona Institute for Global Health recently conducted a study exploring how green spaces surrounding children’s homes impact their cognitive development. Limited research over the last few years has shown that exposure to nature has positive effects on children’s physical, mental, and cognitive health. In fact, a previous ISGlobal study found that green spaces at and around schools could enhance brain development in seven- to ten-year-old children, increasing working memory and decreasing inattentiveness. However researchers say that more evidence and a broader scope were needed on this topic.

In their current study, published in Environmental Health Perspectives, the ISGlobal study team assessed how nature – namely “greenness" – around the residential addresses of children affected their cognitive development, starting from an early age. Using data collected from 1,500 children of the INMA (Environmental Health Perspectives Project) cohort from Sabadell and Valencia from 2003 to 2013, the study team analyzed the impact of greenness at 100, 300, and 500 meters distance from these children’s homes at the following developmental junctures: birth, four to five years of age, and seven years of age. The children were given two kinds of tests measuring their attention abilities at four to five years old, then again at seven years old. Children with more greenness surrounding their homes had better scores, suggesting that long-term and regular exposure to green spaces can improve kids’ focus.

Payam Dadvand, researcher and first author of this study says, “This is the first time that the impact of lifelong residential exposure to green spaces on attention capacity in children has been studied.” It points to the importance of having green spaces in cities, he says, since not all children, of course, have access to green space at home.

Jordi Sunyer, study coordinator and head of the Child Health Programme at ISGlobal, explains that, “reen spaces in cities promote social connections and physical activity and reduce exposure to air pollution and noise, and are therefore essential for the development of the future generations’ brains.” She adds that different types of vegetation could have different effects on neurodevelopment, making further research done in other settings with various climates and vegetation potentially beneficial.

I’ve always noticed that playing outside helps my children sleep better. Now that I know it could also help their concentration, you can bet we’ll be spending almost all our time outdoors. Honestly, our routine walks and backyard romping sessions seem to be as beneficial for me as they are for the kids.

It’s no wonder. Recent findings from a job satisfaction survey conducted in the Midwest indicate that adults exposed to nature at work (in the form of windows or live plants) report feeling better about their jobs and work performance. As a stay-at-home mom, the park and backyard are my office, and I think all the green grass is getting to my head in the best way possible.




Parent Co.

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