Go Green for a Longer Life

Albert Einstein once said, “Look deep into nature and you will understand everything better.” Right now, I can’t help but believe that, because I get to see nature breathe new life as spring comes into full bloom (pun intended). Spring is my favorite time of the year, because the world around us literally blossoms into life; colors transition from muted to vibrant as the surrounding greenery awakes from its winter-long slumber. On the flip side, it only takes a bout of seasonal depression or run-in with flu season to recognize how the environment affects a person’s health. And recently, a group of public health researchers at Harvard University published some research that contributes a little more to the story. They found that living near greenery might lead to a longer life.

Looking Deeper…
Harvard researchers analyzed data from the US-based Nurse’s Health Study—a collaborative, ongoing investigation that collects data biannually from nurses all over the country. Using data from over 100,000 women, the researchers looked at the amount of annual “greenness” in the 250-meter area around their address. After factoring in major risk factors of death (think: age, race/ethnicity, smoking, and socioeconomic status), they found that the odds of dying were 12% lower for those living in the greenest areas, compared to those living in the lowest amounts of greenery. This link was even stronger for cause-specific deaths like cancer and respiratory problems.

So the Grass is Really Greener?
We know that green, natural environments may counteract negative exposures like air pollution and increase positive lifestyle habits like physical activity, social engagement and lower stress. They also may lower your risk for cardiovascular disease, which is the leading cause of death worldwide. So, policymakers and urban planners can look at research like this when developing residential areas (and even cities) in order to improve the health of its citizens. Maybe naturalist and environmental philosopher John Muir said it best when he said, “in every walk in nature, one receives far more than he seeks.” Those breaths of fresher air may just compound and add years on your life.

(Featured image courtesy of pixabay.com)

Nicolette Hoke

Nicolette Hoke is an intern with the Healthy Aging Project, and a student in the Integrative Physiology Department at the University of Colorado Boulder.