For the first time, a study analyzes the long-term link between the green open spaces around the space of living and a set of conditions, including obesity and hypertension. The relationship could be mediated by the opportunities offered by green spaces for physical activity, as well as the mitigation of exposure to air pollution.
Older and middle-aged people living in neighborhoods with more green areas have less risk of metabolic syndrome than those living in less green neighborhoods, according to a new study of the Institute of Global Health of Barcelona (ISGlobal), adding scientific evidence to the benefits of green spaces in health.
Metabolic syndrome is a set of conditions that occurs at the same time and that includes obesity, hypertension, high blood sugar levels and abnormal levels of fat. It is an important risk factor for non-communicable diseases (NCDs), such as heart attacks, diabetes or stroke.
To date, several studies had analyzed the association between exposure to green spaces and some individual components of the metabolic syndrome. For the first time, an ISGlobal team set out to examine it as a whole and in the long term.
The longitudinal study, published in the journal Environmental Pollution, was based on data from more than 6,000 people between the ages of 45 and 69 at the start of the analysis, of the Whitehall II cohort of the United Kingdom. Participants underwent several tests (e.g. blood tests, blood pressure and weist circumference) in four different occasions over a period of 14 years (1997-2013). The open green spaces around their homes were estimated using satellite images.
The conclusions suggest that long-term exposure to green spaces may play a role in preventing metabolic syndrome, including each individual component separately, such as a large waist circumference, high fat levels in the blood or hypertension.
Regarding the mechanisms that explain this relationship, Carmen de Keijzer, first author of the study and researcher at ISGlobal, explains that the association “could be mediated by the opportunities offered by green spaces for physical activity, as well as the mitigation of exposure to air pollution.”
Strongest association in women
In addition, a stronger association was observed in women compared to men. “Women, in general, spend more time in the residential environment, which could explain this gender difference,” Keijzer argues.
“The study found more health benefits in the case of green spaces that had more tree cover, which provides a basis for future research to identify the characteristics of vegetation that positively influence our health,” says Payam Dadvand, ISGlobal researcher and one of the authors of the article.
“Green spaces could help reduce the burden of noncommunicable diseases, one of the current top priorities in public health. We need greener cities and, therefore, healthier cities,” says Dadvand.
A recent ISGlobal study also concluded that people who live in areas with more green spaces have a slower physical decline. Other studies have also found other health benefits including reduction of stress, living longer and a better state of physical and mental health.