(Photo by Glenn P. Knoblock)
Spending time outdoors, immersed in nature, is known to have calming effects, but simply being near green spaces as a child can affect your mental health well into adulthood, according to a recently published study.
Research has increasingly pointed to a correlation between time spent in the great outdoors and our mental health, but a recently published study conducted in Denmark found that growing up near green spaces can significantly decrease — by as much as 55 percent — a person's chances of experiencing mental health disorders as an adult.
"Green space seemed to have an association that was similar in strength to other known influences on mental health, like history of mental health disorders in the family, or socioeconomic status," biologist Kristine Engemann, who led the study at Aarhus University, told NPR. And the more time spent near green space in childhood, the lower the risk of developing mental health problems as an adult.
Using data from the Danish Civil Registration System about a person's physical address, socioeconomic status and mental health records, the study compared the risk of developing 16 mental health disorders as an adult with how much green space surrounded their residence during childhood, NPR reports. After accounting for factors such as yearly income and education level, the researchers determined that growing up near green space contributed to a 15 percent to 55 percent lower risk of developing mental health disorders, depending on the specific condition.
The study does have some limitations, Engemann told NPR. First, it only looks at the correlation between green space and mental illness and not the definitive causes of such conditions. It also doesn't address the different kinds of green space — is a forest better than a city park? — and whether how a person interacts with the green space – passively or actively – affects the likelihood of developing certain mental illnesses.
Why spending time in and near green spaces as a kid makes a person less likely to develop mental illnesses remains unknown, but the study further proves that nature is good for our overall well-being.
Of course, not all of us are lucky enough to grow up near natural green spaces. The good news is that learning to love the outdoors doesn't have to happen in childhood, according to another study. Our connections to nature can be formed and evolve throughout our lifetimes.
“People can develop their relationship with nature throughout various stages in life,” the researchers wrote in the study. “Childhood nature experiences are not necessarily a prerequisite.”