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You eat right and exercise to extend your lifespan, but the time you spend in green spaces may also help you live longer.
Having increased greenness in your surroundings is associated with a reduced risk of all-cause mortality, according to a recent study published in the journal, The Lancet Planetary Health.
Researchers from Barcelona Institute for Global Health (ISGlobal) and Colorado State University conducted a meta-analysis of studies using a metric called the normalized difference vegetation index (NDVI). NDVI quantifies the amount of vegetation in an area by measuring the difference between how plant life reflects near-infrared wavelengths and absorbs red light wavelengths, according to NASA.
The research team found that for every 0.1 increment increase in NDVI within 500 meters of an individual's home, premature mortality was reduced by 4%. The researchers noted that green spaces are correlated with improvements in mental health, immune function, and metabolism. Green spaces are also associated with better pregnancy outcomes and reductions in cardiovascular disease.
How do green spaces work their magic? Green surroundings help us reduce stress and connect with others, according to the study. They offer a haven from traffic noise, better air quality, cooler temps, and a place for people to be physically active.
All of this may translate into less stress and a more positive emotional state, which boosts health and may decrease the risk of mortality. Increased physical activity, more social connectedness, and better air quality may also improve health and account for part of the decrease in mortality associated with green spaces.
"There is now evidence that points to abnormal stress responses as causing or contributing to various diseases or conditions," according to MedicineNet author Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD. Stress is implicated in anxiety disorders, depression, substance abuse, high blood pressure, hives, cardiovascular disease, some cancers, and aging.
Green spaces are not without potential risks, the researchers point out. Parks, gardens, sports fields, woods, and other green spaces may expose people to allergens, herbicides, pesticides, and ticks that carry vector-borne diseases like Lyme disease and dengue fever. People may also be injured or get sunburned when participating in outdoor activities. However, researchers still say green spaces are associated with health benefits.
Half of the world's population lives in urban environments, according to the study authors. Ensuring exposure to more green spaces may produce positive benefits for public health.