The relationship between natural outdoor environments and cognitive functioning and its mediators

Wilma L. Zijlema*, Margarita Triguero-Mas, Graham Smith, Marta Cirach, David Martinez, Payam Dadvand, Mireia Gascon, Marc Jones, Christopher Gidlow, Gemma Hurst, Daniel Masterson, Naomi Ellis, Magdalena van den Berg, Jolanda Maas, Irene van Kamp, Peter van den Hazel, Hanneke Kruize, Mark J. Nieuwenhuijsen, Jordi Julvez

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

Abstract

Background Urban residents may experience cognitive fatigue and little opportunity for mental restoration due to a lack of access to nature. Natural outdoor environments (NOE) are thought to be beneficial for cognitive functioning, but underlying mechanisms are not clear. Objectives To investigate the long-term association between NOE and cognitive function, and its potential mediators. Methods This cross-sectional study was based on adult participants of the Positive Health Effects of the Natural Outdoor Environment in Typical Populations in Different Regions in Europe (PHENOTYPE) project. Data were collected in Barcelona, Spain; Doetinchem, the Netherlands; and Stoke-on-Trent, United Kingdom. We assessed residential distance to NOE, residential surrounding greenness, perceived amount of neighborhood NOE, and engagement with NOE. Cognitive function was assessed with the Color Trails Test (CTT). Mediation analysis was undertaken following Baron and Kenny. Results Each 100 m increase in residential distance to NOE was associated with a longer CTT completion time of 1.50% (95% CI 0.13, 2.89). No associations were found for other NOE indicators and cognitive function. Neighborhood social cohesion was (marginally) significantly associated with both residential distance to NOE and CTT completion time, but no evidence for mediation was found. Nor were there indications for mediation by physical activity, social interaction with neighbors, loneliness, mental health, air pollution worries, or noise annoyance. Conclusions Our findings provide some indication that proximity to nature may benefit cognitive function. We could not establish which mechanisms may explain this relationship.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)268-275
Number of pages8
JournalEnvironmental Research
Volume155
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2017

Cite this

Zijlema, W. L., Triguero-Mas, M., Smith, G., Cirach, M., Martinez, D., Dadvand, P., ... Julvez, J. (2017). The relationship between natural outdoor environments and cognitive functioning and its mediators. Environmental Research, 155, 268-275. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.envres.2017.02.017