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JYVASKYLA, Finland — Many studies point to the mental health benefits of living in greener areas outside of cities, but could living in the countryside also be better for us physically? A study in Finland shows that young children living in rural areas have better motor skills than those living in urban areas.
According to researchers from the University of Jyväskylä, the cause seems to be that children in rural areas spend more time outdoors and are therefore more suited to the demands of outdoor play.
While urban children played more organized sports than rural children and thus reaped benefits that rural children did not have, researchers found that rural children were better at motor tasks. such as object control and balance, which lend themselves to tasks such as running, climbing and drawing.
“In early childhood, mastering basic motor skills is one of the main developmental tasks of the child,” says lead author Donna Niemistö, from the Faculty of Sport and Health Sciences of the university, in a press release. “Motor skills enable children to participate in a variety of physical activities and physically active play. Mutual games and games allow children to have friends to play with. In addition, motor skills are also crucial when it comes to school adjustment.
For the study, the authors assessed the motor skills of 945 children aged three to seven from 37 different daycare centers in Finland. The researchers used internationally known and understood indicators, including locomotor and object control abilities. They also compared the skills with the children’s time spent playing outdoors and their participation in organized sports using a parent questionnaire.
The authors found that children generally viewed the ability to play outdoors as invigorating and had more opportunities to run, play and explore when they had more space or larger yards. Having more space outside of a home has given children more ability to challenge themselves, practice more frequently, and improve their motor skills.
“When a child feels as proficient in a given motor task, they will practice more, and through increased repetition, they will gain better motor skills,” says Niemistö.
According to the researchers, having a yard and more space to play outside also motivated children to spend more time outdoors.
The study is published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health.