Living near green spaces may help you live longer

    18 April 2016

    People who have access to green spaces live longer, according to a study published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives.

    The researchers, from Harvard University, aimed to explore the link between longevity and proximity to vegetation.

    They found that people with access to a garden or living close to a park had a lower chance of developing cancer or respiratory illnesses, and were more likely to take frequent exercise.

    Those in the greenest areas were found to be 34 per cent less likely to die from respiratory disease, and were 13 per cent less likely to die as a result of cancer.

    The study looked at data gathered from 108,630 women, 8,604 of whom died during the eight-year research period. The researchers found that women with the most green space in the 250-metre area around their home had a 12 per cent lower rate of mortality, compared to those with the least green space.

    The study’s lead author, Dr Peter James, said: ‘We were surprised to observe such strong associations between increased exposure to greenness and lower mortality rates.

    ‘We were even more surprised to find evidence that a large proportion of the benefit from high levels of vegetation seems to be connected with improved mental health.’

    ‘We know that planting vegetation can help the environment by reducing wastewater loads, sequestering carbon, and mitigating the effects of climate change.

    ‘Our new findings suggest a potential co-benefit — improving health — that presents planners, landscape architects, and policy makers with an actionable tool to grow healthier places.’

    Instant analysis
    Anyone will tell you that getting out in the fresh air does you the world of good, so, on the face of it, this research seems a bit of a no-brainer. And, to be negative, the study relies on the findings of a questionnaire — a notoriously unreliable research tool, prone as it is to subjective bias — and all of its subjects are women, thus excluding half the population.

    On the plus side, the study boldly declares that it corrects for socioeconomic status, age, race, body mass index, physical activity, smoking and education among other factors — that’s a lot of correction, so the findings should be reasonably applicable to the general population.

    The reduction in respiratory illness seems impressive. Depressive illness, too, appears to have been significantly reduced. But before you go planting lush vegetation in the 250 square metres around your home, bear in mind that there appears to be no effect on mortality rates related to coronary heart disease, diabetes, stroke or infections. It may be that other factors are at play. CH
    Research score: 3/5