Life Course Nature Exposure and Mental Health Outcomes: A Systematic Review and Future Directions. Academic Article uri icon


  • Recently, an emerging body of literature has examined the relationships between early life nature exposure and mental health in later life; however, no critical synthesis yet exists regarding the extent and strength of these relationships. This study presents the first systematic review of studies in this growing area. Following the PRISMA framework, we searched six databases (i.e., Scopus, Web of Science, MEDLINE, Embase, PsycINFO, and CINAHL); conducted identification, screening, eligibility, and inclusion analyses; and identified a final set of 29 articles. The review set comprises primarily longitudinal studies, with several cross-sectional studies using retrospective measures of childhood nature exposure. The majority of included studies were published between 2016 and 2020 and conducted in Europe and North America. Five domains of mental health outcomes are associated with early-life nature exposure: incidence of mental disorders, psychiatric symptoms and emotions, conduct problems in children, cognitive function, and subjective well-being. The evidence lends support to an overall beneficial role of early nature exposure on mental health, although inconsistencies are reported. Taken together, the evidence does not suggest that exposure at any given life stage is more saliently associated with mental health outcomes than at others. We discuss the validity concerns and methodological remedies and offer directions for future research.

published proceedings

  • Int J Environ Res Public Health

altmetric score

  • 17

author list (cited authors)

  • Li, D., Menotti, T., Ding, Y., & Wells, N. M.

citation count

  • 11

complete list of authors

  • Li, Dongying||Menotti, Tess||Ding, Yizhen||Wells, Nancy M

publication date

  • May 2021