Living near woodlands gives mental health benefits to children, study finds

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A natural environment can have positive impacts on cognitive development

A new study conducted by researchers from University College London explored how green spaces can benefit kids’ mental health outcomes. According to the findings, living in close proximity to woodlands can lead to better behavior, stronger cognitive development, and overall better mental health for children

“Previous studies have revealed positive associations between exposure to nature in urban environments, cognitive development, and mental health,” said researcher Mikaël Maes. “These findings contribute to our understanding of our natural environment types as an important protective factor for an adolescent’s cognitive development and mental health and suggest that not every environment type may contribute equally to those health benefits.” 

Fostering positive mental health outcomes

For the study, the researchers analyzed data from more than 3,500 kids enrolled in the Study of Cognition, Adolescents, and Mobile Phones (SCAMP) in London. Participants answered questions about their interactions with peers at school, general behavior, and overall well-being. The team then compared their answers to the geographic surroundings around their homes; they assessed how close the kids were to different kinds of outdoor spaces and how much time they spent in these areas. 

The study showed that kids had the strongest mental health, behavioral, and cognitive outcomes when they lived closer to woodlands. The results were even better than close proximity to other green and blue spaces, such as parks or lakes. The benefits associated with being so close to woodlands were long-lasting, as the team learned that these spaces positively impacted mental health outcomes for two years. 

Though the team plans to do more work in this area to better understand why these areas are so beneficial to kids’ development and mental health, they hope their findings shed some light on the overall importance of natural spaces.

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