Ever since many of us were children, we’ve been told to go outside and play. Although we live in a different world and caution is certainly necessary, it seems as if getting out in the fresh air and maybe getting a little dirty can have some benefits.
For years, parents, teachers, and guardians have felt that it was important for children to get out in nature on occasion. They even felt that it helped with their immune system, but there may be some backing to that parental folk wisdom. A study by the University of Helsinki, focused on preschool-age children, found that the child’s immune system could be significantly boosted when they played on a forest floor.
The study<] was published in the Journal of Science Advances and focuses on daycare centers in the Finish cities of Lahti and Tampere with children between the ages of 3-5. Three of the daycare centers had gravel yards and three others had playgrounds with natural, forest earth. The daycare centers with gravel yards were used as a control throughout the study.
During the experiment, children had attended four centers that had gravel playgrounds but eventually were converted to forest ground for research purposes. Biological samples were collected from each child prior to the study’s beginning and then again after 28 days of playing in their daycare environments.
What the researchers found was surprising, even for those who thought there may be some benefit. The children who were in the playgrounds that were newly forested had results similar to those children who played on the forest floor regularly. They saw an improvement in their skin and gut microbiomes and they had more anti-inflammatory proteins in their blood. This suggested that their immune system was getting stronger.
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The results may just show a lot of hope for both children and adults who live in city environments. Those individuals tend to suffer from a lack of bacterial diversity and from pollutants. They often suffer in their microbiome, but there may be room for improvement. Urban children who do not have as much access to outdoor activities may benefit from changes in the schoolyard environment, according to the study.
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