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Childhood Immunity Enhanced by Natural Environment

Child playing in natural environment to enhance immune system

visionpic/Pexels.com

At the University of Helsinki, in Finland, a new project recorded in the journal Science Advances found that switching a child’s playground from gravel to natural forest floor could foster a better immune system within a month by exposing them to a greater variety of skin and gut bacteria. The researchers studied 75 children between 3 and 5 years of age at 10 daycare centers in two Finnish cities to see how a change in their playing environment altered their skin and gut microbiota, as well as immune markers in their blood.

Four centers turned their gravel playgrounds into fields of forest floor, soil and grasses, while three already had that setting. Three others kept their existing gravel playground. One month after the changes were made, scientists collected samples of skin, blood and feces from the children. In just a few weeks, microbiota of the children at the renovated daycare centers quickly shifted to become more like the microbiomes of children that attended centers that already had more natural play surfaces. The children at the renovated daycare centers developed a higher ratio of the anti-inflammatory proteins to pro-inflammatory proteins in their blood, indicating that their immune systems were in better shape.
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Global Brief: Natural Thinking Spending Time in Nature Increases Cognitive Performance
More of our time is spent indoors than ever before. One of the ways by which nature may improve cognitive function (i.e. the acquisition of and goal-oriented use of knowledge) is by improving memory formation and recall, specifically that of short-term or working memory, and goal-oriented or directed attention; the kind that requires focused effort. By comparing and contrasting 13 studies, a team of researchers has shed light on this complex interaction in research published in Frontiers in Psychology. The studies used the backwards digit span task, which requires participants to invert a series of numbers and repeat them back. All demonstrated significantly improved cognition in nature as compared to urban environments. The benefits of studies like this are two-fold: not only are we learning more about how the brain interacts with its environment, but also how to leverage this interaction to lead healthier, more productive and happier lives.
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