You don’t need a scientist to tell you that spending time in nature generally makes you feel better. Any time I get outside for a hike, I always feel so calm, stable, and happy. Going for a hike can reduce feelings of anxiety, improve your cardiovascular health, and even make you a more analytical thinker.
Now, according to a study published in May 2019 in the International Journal of Environmental Health and Public Health, there may be a connection between mental health issues in adults and low nature exposure as children.
The researchers collected data from more than 3,500 people living in four cities across Europe. Those cities include Doetinchem, the Netherlands, Kaunas, Lithuania, Stoke-on-Trent, United Kingdom, and Barcelona, Spain.
Among the participants of the study, roughly 84% reported that they had high levels of exposure to nature, while about 16% said they did not. Not only did researchers find a connection between adult mental health issues and low nature exposure, but those who reported low nature exposure as children rated the importance of exposure to nature lower than those who had high nature exposure.
“Adults with low levels of childhood natural outdoor environments (NOE) exposure had, when compared to adults with high levels of childhood NOE exposure, significantly worse mental health,” the researchers wrote in their study.
This study is among the first that connects low exposure to nature as children to mental health issues as adults, though it isn’t the first study that found a connection between overall well-being and greenspaces.
A similar study found that more green spaces in residential neighborhoods during childhood saw a lowered risk of depressive symptoms in adults, and yet another study found a connection between exposure to nature and cognitive development in school aged children.
As with most scientific studies, there were some limitations. This study did not analyze the amount of time spent in nature, what they did in nature as children, and how satisfied they were with their experiences in nature. The study’s authors hope to see more studies that take a harder look at some of these factors.
“Further studies are needed to confirm these findings and to identify mechanisms underlying long-term benefits of childhood NOE exposure.”