Kids should really listen to grandma when she says, "Go outside and play."

The idea that children's exposure to the outside world is beneficial in their development is not new.  It develops much of their physical, mental and social skills.  They learn to move around, play and make friends.  They discover new things and become more curious about things.  They start to develp a strong sense of self.

In the early stages of a child's development, cognition plays an important role.  Experts conducted a recent study testing children's cognitive skills, and discovered that those exposed to green spaces have more enhanced cognitive skills.

The study involved a select number of primary schoolchildren in Barcelona, Spain, and took around a year to complete.  The team of researchers is a mix of experts from Spain, Norway and the United States.  This was led by Payam Dadvand from the Centre for Research in Environmental Epidermology in Barcelona.  A detailed discussion of this research is published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

According to the study, 'photosythetically active vegetation or greenness is widely known to have countless benefits, however not much is known with regard to cognitive development in children.  To obtain a more accurate explanation, researchers characterized outdoor surrounding greenness at home, in the school and during commute.  They used high-resolution satellite data and multilevel modeling in estimating the associations between green spaces and cognitive development.  In this set-up, they observed a total of 2,593 primary schoolchildren from the second to fourth grades - comprising an age group of 7-10 - from 36 schools in Barcelona.  From 2012-2013, they followed through each of these greenness-exposed child's cognitive development, through a series of tests regularly conducted every three months during the year.

Researchers also found it important to note that traffic-related air pollution is naturally lower in areas with more greenery.  They found out that adding the pollution factor to their models greatly impacted the study, that 20 to 65 percent of the link between greenery and better cognitive development.

"The kids where there was more green around the school, we saw better cognitive development, so they did better on these tests," says Mark Nieuwenhuijsen, also a researcher from the Cetre for Research in Environmental Epidermology in Barcelona and co-author of the study.  Over the period of the study, he noted a five percent difference.

Nieuwenhuijsen says '5 percent' may sound like a small amount.  However, this could have large effects on the scale of an entire population. 

Photo: Eric Lewis | Flickr 

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