Kids living close to green spaces may have beneficial effects on brain development

Children living in green neighbourhoods may have beneficial effects on brain development, a study has found.

Primary school children who have been raised in homes surrounded by more green space tend to present with larger volumes of white and grey matter in certain areas of the brain, said researchers. “This is the first study that evaluates the association between long-term exposure to green space and brain structure,” said Payam Dadvand from Barcelona Institute for Global Health in Spain.

“Our findings suggest that exposure to green space early in life could result in beneficial structural changes in the brain,” Dadvand said. For the study, published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives, the researchers examined 253 schoolchildren.

Lifelong exposure to residential green space was estimated using satellite-based information on the children’s addresses from birth up through to the time of the study. Brain anatomy was studied using high-resolution 3D magnetic resonance images (MRI). Working memory and inattentiveness were evaluated with computerised tests.

The data analysis showed that long-term exposure to greenness was positively associated with white and grey matter volume in some parts of the brain that partly overlapped with those associated with higher scores on cognitive tests. Peak volumes of white and grey matter in the regions associated with green space exposure predicted better working memory and reduced inattentiveness.

Furthermore, greener areas often have lower levels of air pollution and noise and may enrich microbial inputs from the environment, all of which could translate into indirect benefits for brain development.