Children who Spend Time in Nature with their Parents Sleep Better and are more Physically Active - Folkhälsan

27 January 2022

Children who Spend Time in Nature with their Parents Sleep Better and are more Physically Active

A recent article by FHRC’s DAGIS-study groups Naturkraft-project, published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, showed that frequent parent-child nature visits are associated with children’s longer sleep duration at night, more physical activity, and, among girls, good sleep consistency. As such, promoting family nature trips may be a cost-effective way to increase physical activity and enhance sleep among children.

Read more about Naturkraft here

Nature offers ample opportunities for families to engage in several kinds of recreational activities. Previous studies have shown that nature visits and exposure have favorable associations with children’s health outcomes, such as predicting and facilitating physical activity and the frequency of nature visits later, in life and development, such as enhancing motor skills and an inverse relationship with behavioral problems and ADHD-like symptoms. Limited access to natural environments, on the other hand, is associated with problems with children’s sleeping patterns.

A recent study at FHRC examined the relationship between the frequency of parent-child nature visits, sleep, moderate-to-vigorous physical activity, and weight status among three- to six-year-old preschoolers in Finland. 864 parents and their children participated in this cross-sectional study, conducted between 2015 and 2016. In sum, 798 parents answered a questionnaire on the frequency of parent–child nature visits, which also included questions on sociodemographic factors and their children’s sleep habits, such as bedtime and wake-up times. Furthermore, the children wore an accelerometer for seven days to measure their physical activity, and their weight and height were measured as well.

Based on these data, the researchers conducted regression analyses, a statistical modelling method for calculating the impact variables may have on one another. The models found a significant association between more frequent parent-child nature visits and longer sleep duration and sleep consistency among the children. However, the association for sleep consistency and nature visits was not found among boys, while girls with frequent nature visits were more likely to have good sleep consistency than those who didn’t. More frequent nature visits were significantly associated with more moderate-to-vigorous physical activity, as measured by the accelerometers. Nature visits were not associated with the weight status of the children.

– In future studies, it would be beneficial to investigate the optimal duration and frequency of children´s nature visits, in which the health benefits are achieved, says coordinator Juuli-Mari Kokkonen from the Naturkraft research project.

These results show that frequent parent–child nature visits are associated with three- to six-year-old Finnish children’s longer sleep duration at night, higher levels of physical activity and, among girls, good sleep consistency. As this was a cross-sectional study, we cannot draw conclusions on any causal relationships among the variables. Nonetheless, the study highlights the importance that nature access and exposure may have for a child’s health. As such, enabling family nature visits in both urban and rural areas may be a valid and multi-faceted health promotion strategy to consider.

– Our results raise the need for collaboration between municipalities and organizations to inform the public about accessible recreational outdoor opportunities, as well as, to plan strategies to increase family´s nature visits. In Finland we are fortunate to be surrounded by versatile nature areas and it is important to preserve these unbuilt areas for future generations as well, Kokkonen comments. 

Kokkonen, J.-M.; Vepsäläinen, H.; Abdollahi, A.; Paasio, H.; Ranta, S.; Erkkola, M.; Roos, E.; Ray, C. Associations between Parent–Child Nature Visits and Sleep, Physical Activity and Weight Status among Finnish 3–6-Year-Olds. Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 2021, 18, 12426.

Simon Granroth, Science Communicator