Green play areas boost children's immunity, new study finds

Green play areas boost children's immunity, new study finds

By Lucy Jones  October 27th, 2020

Scientists have identified a link between playing in nature and improved immunity in children.


The global pandemic has put a greater focus on our health and the things we can do to protect ourselves and others from illness. A strong and healthy immune system can reduce your risk of getting sick from certain illnesses and help you recover more quickly when you do. According to a group of Finnish scientists, the strength of your immune system might come down to how many mud pies you ate as a child.

A new experimental study has found a connection between children's immunity and green outdoor play areas. The researchers transformed gravel yards into lush green gardens and found that children's immune systems improved within a month of playing in these spaces.

The researchers found that children who played in greener outdoor spaces developed more diverse microbes on their skin and in their guts, leading to a higher level of immunity against illness.

While previous studies have established a link between microbial diversity and strong immunity, this research is the first to test this theory by deliberately changing children's environments and measuring the effects.

A test group of 75 children were involved in the study. While this is a relatively small sample size, the findings indicate a strong connection between green play areas and children's immunity.

"When we saw the results, we were very surprised because they were so strong,” said lead researcher Aki Sinkkonen. “Our study can pave the way for new preventive practices to cut the global epidemic of immune-mediated diseases.”

The 'hygiene hypothesis' suggests that autoimmune diseases like asthma, eczema, type 1 diabetes, inflammatory bowel disease and multiple sclerosis are on the rise in Western society because children are no longer exposed to a diverse range of microbiomes.

Sinkkonen's research team is now investigating the possibility of giving babies a microbiome boost in order to reduce rates of autoimmune diseases.

“It is wonderful forward-looking work.” Proffesot Graham Rook, from the University College London, told The Guardian. “Many of the disorders that are increasing in western urbanised populations are due to failure of the mechanisms that supervise the immune system. This study shows that exposing children to a biodiverse natural environment boosts several biomarkers of the essential control mechanisms. These Finnish research groups have been leading the way in applying this understanding in a practical way.”

While we wait for the next scientific breakthrough that harnesses the amazing benefits of spending time in nature, children (and adults) can experience those benefits directly by playing outside, planting trees and indulging in a mud pie or two.

Positive Environment News has been compiled using publicly available information. Planet Ark does not take responsibility for the accuracy of the original information and encourages readers to check the references before using this information for their own purposes. 


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Lucy Jones

Lucy started her career working as a writer and editor in print and digital publishing. She went on to create content for Australia's leading sustainable fashion platform while completing her Master of Cultural Studies. Lucy spends her downtime at the beach, crocheting and hanging out with her cat Larry. She believes words can change the world and is stoked to help Planet Ark spread the message of positive environmental change.

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