How Studying and Living Near Green Spaces Results In Less Oxidative Stress For Children

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Many sources support that access to green space is crucial for healthy health. However, many people lack it or have it in the wrong places, especially those who live in urban areas. How we provide green space for city people and the locations in which we do so become more crucial as cities worldwide experience the effects of urbanization and growing density.

The benefits of being close to green areas like parks and bicycling trails for physical and mental health should be distributed evenly among urban communities. Reduced premature mortality, a higher life expectancy, fewer mental health issues, a lower prevalence of cardiovascular disease, improved cognitive functioning in youngsters and the elderly, and healthier newborns are just a few of the health advantages linked to green space. Additionally, it offers possibilities for social connection and physical activity while lowering noise, heat, and air pollution levels.

Green space seems to be especially beneficial for children, our future generation. For the first time, a study led by the Barcelona Institute for Global Health (ISGlobal), a facility funded by the “la Caixa” Foundation, examined the link between child exposure to various green areas and oxidative stress. The study concluded that independent of the children’s physical activity, increased exposure to greenery is linked to lower levels of oxidative stress.

What The Study Found

Although oxygen is necessary for many biochemical processes that keep us alive, during the oxidation process, it also produces damaging reactive chemicals that the body sometimes finds difficult to swiftly neutralize or inflict damage that the body cannot repair. This leads to oxidative stress, which accelerates the aging process or even causes disease.

The presence of green spaces close to one’s house has been linked to improved mental health and physical activity, which lowers the chance of being overweight or obese, according to several studies that have been conducted so far. However, the direct impacts of vegetation on biological processes, including oxidative stress and inflammation, have received less attention. Understanding how green spaces can affect respiratory and allergy disorders is particularly crucial.

The researchers examined 323 healthy children aged 8 to 11 from five primary schools in Asti, a small city in northwest Italy, to see if green spaces might be connected to reduced levels of oxidative stress in children and if physical activity plays a part in this potential link.

Parents answered a questionnaire on their kids’ physical exercise habits. The amount of the substance isoprostane in urine was measured in order to quantify oxidative stress. The Normalised Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI) was used to determine residential and educational greenness, and an estimated amount of vegetation was also taken into account. Multisite exposures were weighted for the amount of time spent in each location, allowing for the NDVI in the area of the kids’ homes and schools.

From their analysis, the researchers discovered two main findings stating that:

  1. more exposure to greenery is consistently associated with reduced oxidative stress levels, and 
  2. the observed relations are not mediated by physical activity.

The researchers hypothesized several molecular pathways that would account for this direct connection between green space and oxidative stress in youngsters:

  1. By exposing kids to more organisms that are known to populate natural habitats, increased exposure to these regions may help kids’ immune systems grow.
  2. Exposure to green areas can boost vitamin D production because of sunlight’s UV rays. Antioxidant vitamin D protects against the damaging effects of inflammation and oxidative stress.
  3. Greenery enhances urban air quality.

The researchers also emphasized that the potential short and long-term effects of such excess oxidative stress on health remain unclear. Hence, further investigation and support for the city and public health strategies to green the environment should be encouraged. 

Journal Reference

Squillacioti, G., Carsin, A.-E., Bellisario, V., Bono, R., & Garcia-Aymerich, J. (2022). Multisite greenness exposure and oxidative stress in children. The potential mediating role of physical activity. Environmental Research, 209, 112857. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.envres.2022.112857 

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