Spending more time in nature crucial to children's mental health and development, study says

Children, especially those living in big cities, are experiencing less and less time in nature which can lead to a decrease in cognitive development, according to a study published by Nature Sustainability

To test how access to green spaces affected children, researchers analyzed 3,568 students, ranging from ages 9 to 15, at 31 schools in London. The study was conducted over four years, with participants being analyzed for their cognitive development and mental health. 

The more children were exposed to green spaces such as woods and parks, the higher they scored for cognitive development, according to the study. And the participants accessing more green spaces were 17% less likely to experience emotional and behavioral risks.

Researchers were aware of and adjusted for factors such as gender, parental occupation, type of school and air pollution in the area.

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While exposure to green space showed higher cognitive development, the same levels weren't seen with blue spaces. Blue spaces are rivers, lakes and oceans, according to the study. There was a less obvious increase in well-being with blue spaces, although researchers said children had much less access to them. 

Even though the study's data discovered a tie between mental health and green spaces, it didn't answer why. 

"Currently, the mechanisms why humans receive mental health or cognition benefits from nature exposure is unknown. Scientific research on the role of the human senses is key to establish a causal link," the study's lead author, Mikaël Maes, a researcher at University College London and the School of Public Health at Imperial College London, told CNN.

One of the major limits to the study was that area crime was not taken into account. Researchers also assumed that living near green spaces meant students would have access to those areas. The study also didn't account for how children with disabilities would react to time in green spaces. 

Follow Gabriela Miranda on Twitter: @itsgabbymiranda