A new study discovered that children who are exposed to green spaces such as parks, gardens, and backyards have lower levels of stress. In Italy, 323 children aged 8 to 11 were studied by researchers from the Barcelona Institute for Global Health (ISF). The parents of the children were asked how frequently their children engaged in physical activity, and the study was quantified by using urine samples to measure oxidative stress. Residential and school greenness were also evaluated in order to determine how much outdoor green space surrounded a child’s home and school, as well as how much time was spent in each location.
The results showed that the greater a child’s exposure to vegetation, the lower the level of oxidative stress, and this association was observed regardless of the child’s physical activity. Oxygen is required for countless biochemical reactions that keep humans alive, but its oxidation process can produce harmful reactive substances that the body cannot always quickly neutralize and can cause irreversible damage.
According to the National Cancer Institute, oxidative stress is a condition in which antioxidant levels are lower than normal, which is typically measured in blood plasma. Over time, this imbalance can lead to conditions such as diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, and even cancer. According to researchers from Barcelona ISF, there are several biological mechanisms that could explain how green spaces influence oxidative stress in children. One possible explanation is that exposure to “organisms that tend to colonize natural environments” in green spaces helps the development of a child’s immune system. Another reason was that ultraviolet radiation from sunlight can increase vitamin D synthesis in green spaces.
According to the researchers, vitamin D acts as an antioxidant, preventing the negative effects of oxidative stress and inflammation. Another factor that could be considered is air quality, as more vegetation tends to improve air quality in urban areas. Notably, the researchers discovered no link between green space and oxidative stress.”Because the short- and long-term health effects of excess oxidative stress are unknown, we need to conduct additional research and support city and public-health strategies that promote greenness,” said Judith Garcia-Aymerich, a researcher at Barcelona ISF and study co-author. According to the National Association for the Education of Young People, taking young children outside can promote physical health and better sleep while also providing new contexts for learning.