Blowing bubbles is a cheap, fun way to get kids outside. (Photo by Maxime Bhm, Unsplash)What do nature scavenger hunts, blowing bubbles and reading books under a shady park tree all have in common? Kids have to go outside to do them, which keeps children busy and, according to a study published in the medical journal Allergy, helps children develop more robust immune systems, reports Richard Gawel of Healio: “Children raised in rural environments with lots of time outdoors and some exposure to animals had immune systems that were better regulated than children raised in urban environments.”

While human immune systems are adaptive throughout life, study researchers note, “specific exposures in early life may have more significant effects on the developing immune system, with potentially long-term impacts.” This study isn’t the first to establish that connection, but offers new details.

Researcher Liam O’Mahony, an immunologyprofessor at University College Cork, Ireland, told Gawel: “Our study found that many of the important environmental factors were linked with altered exposure to microbes during the first few years of a young child’s life, a crucial stage in shaping a person’s immune system. . . . This ‘immunological window of opportunity’ plays a critical role in
establishing the limitations and reaction trajectories of our immune
system that stay with us for life and influence the risk of
immune-mediated diseases.” Gawel adds, “Exposures to animals and sunlight accounted for the most statistically significant differences between the rural and urban clusters.”

Parents and child care providers often tell kids, “Go outside and play!” This research supports that mantra, but more broadly, researchers hope to use it to develop “‘therapies for preventing chronic immune-mediated disorders,'” Gewal reports. “‘Growing our understanding of the mechanisms and role of environment on immune development is highly important, and research such as this can help pave the way for new developments in early disease diagnosis and expediting interventions for more specific and safe modulation of immune activity,’ O’Mahony said.”