The lack of contact with natural environments is posing a significant challenge to the health of children in Spain, according to a study conducted by the Environmental Health Committee (CSMA) of the Spanish Association of Pediatrics (AEP). The study, titled “Systematic review: benefits for neurological development of active/passive school exposure to green and/or blue spaces in children and adolescents, 2023,” recommends that minors spend at least one to two hours a day in a natural environment for healthy development.
However, Spanish children are falling short of this recommendation, with one in five spending minimal time away from home. Juan Antonio Ortega, coordinator of the CSMA, stressed the importance of children spending time in natural areas, even in urban parks, for at least an hour a day to ensure their overall well-being.
The benefits of spending time in nature are extensive, including improved physical and mental health, increased quality of sleep, reduced stress and obesity, improved cardiovascular health, increased visual acuity, and improved school performance and attention span.
Ortega emphasized that contact with nature has no contraindications, and it is advisable for children to start enjoying it from a young age. Establishing a connection with nature early on can lead to lifelong bonds with the natural environment.
Virtual leisure is not seen as an alternative to spending time outdoors. While the use of screens in moderation is not discouraged, it should not replace exercise and enjoyment outdoors. Psychologist Gema José Moreno suggested that families should organize free time well to encourage outdoor activities, such as going to the countryside.
Listening to the sounds of nature, like the wind through the leaves or the waves of the sea, can enhance children’s well-being. Psychopedagogue María José Lladó emphasized that nature music helps develop children’s hearing and that children should be encouraged to interact with the natural environment to avoid artificial noises and stimulation.
To encourage children to spend time in natural spaces, adults need to set an example. Initiatives such as spending time with the family in nature, engaging in gardening, and participating in activities in natural spaces can help foster a love and appreciation for the outdoors among children.
It is crucial for children to understand the connection between their health and the health of the planet, particularly in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis. The study’s findings highlight the significance of prioritizing children’s exposure to natural environments for their overall health and well-being.