Living Near Nature Linked To Longer Lives

A new study from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and Brigham and Women’s Hospital, has found that living in, or near, green areas can help women live longer lives and improve their mental health. And I for one believe it! For me, there is something spiritual that happens to me, the calm, peace, and clear head that I experience when I’m standing at the waters edge. It’s easier to breathe. Less difficult to just “be”. It recharges me.

For the study, researchers examined more than 108,000 women who had enrolled in the Nurse’s Health Study (a nationwide investigation into risk factors for major chronic diseases in women) from 2000 to 2008. They found that women living in the greenest areas had a 12% lower death rate than those who lived in the least green areas (levels of vegetation were determined using satellite imagery from different seasons and years). The researchers also made sure to adjust for individual socioeconomics and health risk factors, like smoking. CNN reports that the study’s author, Peter James, said the team was surprised with the information they found, “We know already that vegetation can help mitigate the effect of climate change. Our study suggests the potential co-benefit for health.” They believe the same information would be true about men, were they to rerun the study and include them.

But not only did they live longer but they lived with less disease. Women in greener areas had a 41% lower death rate for kidney disease, a 34% lower death rate for respiratory disease and a 13% lower death rate for cancer than those living in areas with less greenery. However, its not the “green” that is magical. There are, the team believes, several factors at play- the most powerful being improved mental health. They were able to measure this improved state for the participants, through levels of depression, and they estimate that it explains 30 percent of the benefit to living near green spaces. But inside of that measurement is increased physical activity, less air pollution, and more opportunities for social engagement, as well.
The results of the study don’t mean that people should sell their homes and run for the country in order to live long and happy lives, just that any amount of increased vegetation seems to be linked to lower mortality. So maybe instead of calling the realtor, call a landscape firm. Perhaps you could plant that butterfly garden you saw on Pinterest. Or put a pond and some fish in the huge, empty backyard you have. Or maybe, if you are land deficient, you could just start a porch garden; get a nice and comfy chair you can sit on and fill your porch or balcony with loads of potted plants and seasonal flowers.
It would be great if this new information lead to better informed city planners and architects, we need more sustainable public spaces. Connecting with the earth is so good for us.