Playing among forests and parklands — rather in than concrete and gravel yards — helps children to foster a stronger immune system, a study has concluded.
Previous studies have proposed that city-dwellers may be at a greater risk of immune-mediated diseases thanks to a lack of exposure to diverse microbiota.
This fails to challenge the immune system and paves the way for conditions like asthma, eczema, inflammatory bowel disease, multiple sclerosis and type 1 diabetes.
Researchers from Finland renovated the outdoor play areas of four nurseries with plants, grasses and soil — finding that it had a positive impact in just one month.
The children who played in the greener spaces maintained more diverse skin and gut microbiota, the team said — along with signs of a better-regulated immune system.
The findings suggest that the bodily defences of city-dwelling children could be boosted by providing daily access to green spaces and soil to play in.
Playing among forests (as pictured) and parklands — rather in than concrete and gravel yards — helps children to foster a stronger immune system, a study has concluded
Researchers from Finland renovated the outdoor play areas of four nurseries with planting boxes (pictured), grasses and soil — finding that it had a positive impact in just one month
In their study, environmental researcher Aki Sinkkonen of the University of Helsinki and colleagues altering the outdoor play spaces of four nurseries in Finland.
They overhauled the previously 'bare' concrete-, sand- and gravel-covered yards with the introduction of wood-like elements including grass, mosses, small shrubs, planting boxes, and natural forest floor.
Over the course of 28 days, the children attending the nurseries — each aged between 3–5 — spent 1.5 hours each day in the green renovated spaces playing games, planting vegetation and crafting with natural materials.
The renovations cost less than €5,000 (£4,524 / $5,860) to implement — less than each yard's annual maintenance budget.
Skin swabs for microorganisms were taken from each of the children both before and after the study period — along with blood and stool samples — and the researchers also analysed soil or sand samples from the yards before and after.
The team compared these nurseries with three 'standard' childcare centres whose yards were left bare, as well as three 'nature-orientated' establishments where children were taken to nearby forests on a daily basis.
In total, the study included 75 children across the 10 nursery centres.
The team found that the children attending the four renovated nurseries maintained a high diversity in their skin microbiota across the length of the study.
The kids also developed a higher ration