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Extend Your Life: Surround Yourself with This One Thing

Loomy, gray cityscapes making you crave the feeling of sitting beneath a lush, green tree canopy? You aren’t alone. But there is more to being in nature than lifting the spirits or breathing fresh air. It could add years to your life. People in urban areas worldwide who live close to a park, garden, or other natural area are at lower risk of premature death, according to a scientific review recently published in The Lancet Planetary Health. 

Researchers used a “vegetation index” to measure the density of flora living in any given area. On their scale, tropical rainforests would get a score close to 1, while barren rock or sand would score closer to 0. They found that the higher the vegetation index, the lower the rate of premature death. The fact that parks are good for you is no surprise. But more intriguing is what happens to people’s health when green spaces change. When an area’s vegetation index increases by just 0.1, the people who live within a third of a mile from it lower their rate of premature mortality by around 4 percent. In other words, the more plant life you have around you, the better your chances of living a longer life. Painting the town green Researchers examined studies from the United States, Canada, Spain, Italy, Australia, Switzerland, and China on this topic and all follow this trend. All together these studies combined included more than eight million people. But, this analysis doesn’t answer the question of why proximity to plants is a good for human health. However, it does confirm the finding that being near green spaces really is good for you and most importantly, the effect likely applies to you, no matter where you live or visit in the world. More than half of the world’s population lives in cities, and the number is rising. This means the public health benefits of these green spaces could affect a lot of people. But some cities have better access to green space than others — which means certain people might be losing out on those extra years. People living in Atlanta, Dallas, and Portland, Oregon are all doing well, with 850 square feet or more of green space per resident. However New York City, Boston, and Miami are barren wastelands by comparison, with less than 200 square feet per resident.

Green space’s benefits aren’t limited to physical health, either. Mental health improves when people are close to leafy green spaces. In a study published earlier this year, for example, researchers found that growing up in nature led to better mental health across a person’s lifespan. The type of green space makes a difference. Between grass, shrubs, and tree canopy, tree canopy coverage has the greatest payoff for humans’ health, and is associated with lower psychological distress. They can also improve your quality of life in other ways: Urban green spaces curb air pollution, noise, and the urban heat island effect. Together, the results suggest cities should step up their urban greening programs and keep public parks public — the lives of their residents may depend on it. I’m Attila. Be well.


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