Two cyclists riding on a path through the woods

While the positive effects of time outdoors couldn’t be clearer for those of us lucky enough to have experienced them, a recent article on the Children & Nature Network highlights a study that sought to codify this observation. The study compared psychiatric data on people born and raised in Denmark with the normalized difference vegetation index of their childhood neighborhood – in other words, how much green space they were exposed to as children. 

The study found that the prevalence of green space during childhood is strongly associated with the risk of developing psychiatric disorders later in life. The more green space a child is exposed to and spends time around, the less likely they are to develop psychiatric disorders. This is especially true for disorder development during adolescence, but disorder development in adults is likewise associated with outdoor access during childhood. The association between green space early in life and psychiatric disorders later on is as strong, if not stronger, than other well-researched risk factors such as socioeconomic status and psychiatric family history.

This study is the latest in a line of research demonstrating the importance of outdoor exposure in promoting mental health across age groups. It supports efforts to expand green space access for children, especially in urban areas where outdoor spaces might be otherwise limited. Most notably, it underscores the importance of the TREE Foundation’s work preserving green spaces and promoting global access to the outdoors.