Growing up in an environment rich in green spaces could promote the brain development of children.
Green spaces to refresh the spirit? The metaphor might not be one. A study recently published in Environmental Health Perspectives, a journal devoted to the health benefits of the environment, has just established a link between the presence of green spaces and the development of certain areas of the brain in children.
The study took place in the vicinity of Barcelona, as part of a large project called BREATHE and intended to evaluate the effects of pollution on the health of children. The researchers scanned the brains of 253 children with 3D MRI. Their exposure to nature was evaluated according to their place of residence, depending on whether the neighborhood appeared more or less rich in green space on satellite images.
Better working memory
In doing so, it appeared that children who had been more exposed to greenery had greater brain volume in some areas of the frontal lobe, possibly related to better cognitive performance. In short, children who grew up surrounded by greenery would tend to have better working memory (short-term mental agility) and perhaps better attentional abilities.
"This is the first study to evaluate the association between long-term exposure to green spaces and brain structure," says Dr. Payam Dadvand, researcher at the University of Barcelona and first author. "Our results suggest that early exposure to greenery could induce beneficial structural changes in the brain. "
Benefits of greenery
All this remains to be confirmed: the fragile methodology of the study makes its conclusions uncertain, and few additional factors could be controlled (only the age, sex and education level of the mother). But it is part of a promising line of research, which aims to establish the benefits of green spaces on cognition. The same team had recently established that children placed in schools rich in green space tended to have a better working memory.
As for the possible mechanisms involved, they are varied in nature. Green spaces have a psychological effect and could stimulate and soothe children, which would allow them a more harmonious development. We also know that living in a place rich in green space is much better for mental health. To this hypothesis is added another, less pleasant: green spaces have the ability to filter air pollution, which is strongly suspected of altering the abilities of children.
Anyway, it's about children as adults: between a concrete yard and a lawn, the choice is quickly made. It is still necessary that the norms of construction and town planning follow.