Can green places make a difference in our health?

By Pat Brinkman - OSU Extension

Is it possible that living around more green spaces can improve or help your health?

It can help you live longer according to a 2016 analysis by Harvard School of Public Health researchers in a study of 100,000 women. Women living in the areas with the most greenness in an area within a tenth of a mile had a 12 percent lower rate of death compared to women who lived in areas with the lowest level of greenness. Women in the highest area of greenness had a 13 percent lower rate for cancer mortality, 35 percent lower respiratory disease-related mortality and a 41 percent lower rate for kidney disease mortality

So why do researchers think green space may improve your health? They think it is a combination of factors which include: lower levels of depression, increases social engagement, higher levels of physical activity and lower levels of pollution.

When examining why people in green spaces might have lower levels of depression it is believed people who live in greener areas are more likely to go outside which exposes them to sunlight. Being exposed to sunlight helps people make more Vitamin D. Depression is associated with lower levels of Vitamin D. Participating in social activities and being with friends can help decrease feelings of loneliness and depression. Experiencing nature and being outside has shown to increase feelings of well-being. Some research links images of nature with an increased positive mood.

Higher levels of physical activity helps a person be more fit and usually healthier. Exercise is good medicine. The women who lived in greener spaces were more physically active in this research study.

Trees, plants, grass and flowers all help reduce pollution. Plants reduce the levels of nitrogen dioxide and particulate matter which helps lower pollution. Those women who lived near the highest amount of vegetation saw a reduced rate of death from respiratory disease by about one-third. Plants can help clean up our air and help us breathe cleaner air.

All this is good news if you live in green spaces with heavy vegetation. In Fayette County we are fortunate to have the parks and lots of green spaces. Washington Court House is a “Tree City” with more trees than some cities. Be sure to take the opportunity get outside, walk or bike around your neighborhood, find friends or family members to walk with you, and enjoy being outdoors.

If you don’t live in an area with much vegetation check to see if you can plant some trees, plants and/or bushes. Put some potted plants on your patio or near your front door if it is outside. Encourage your city or town to be a “Tree City” and plant more trees. Go visit a friend or meet a friend in the park to walk and enjoy the outside. Try taking a vacation in areas with heavy vegetation.

Pat Brinkman is the Family and Consumer Sciences Educator for OSU Extension in Fayette County.

By Pat Brinkman

OSU Extension