In a new study from the University of Miami, researchers found people who live in green neighborhoods are less likely to develop cardiovascular disease.
They found higher levels of greenness were linked to lower rates of heart conditions and stroke over time, both when an area maintained high greenness and when greenness increased.
Making streets and neighborhoods greener has many benefits and this study examined whether it had any link with rates of heart disease.
The researchers also examined whether planting more vegetation in a locality would be accompanied by reductions in heart disease over time.
The study included 243,558 US Medicare beneficiaries aged 65 and older who lived in the same area of Miami during 2011 to 2016.
Satellite images were used to assess the amount of visible and near-infrared (i.e. invisible) sunlight reflected from the Earth’s surface.
Chlorophyll from plants typically absorbs visible light and reflects near-infrared light, so measuring both indicates the amount of vegetation. The greenness of city blocks was then classified as low, medium or high.
Participants were categorized based on whether they lived in low, medium or high greenness blocks in 2011.
The researchers residents of high greenness blocks throughout the study had a 16% lower odds of developing any new heart conditions compared to those in low greenness blocks
Among participants who developed a heart condition during follow-up, those in high greenness areas developed 4% fewer new diseases compared with those in low greenness blocks.
The researchers then compared heart health in participants whose neighborhood became greener versus those who continued to live in areas with low vegetation.
When compared to residents of low greenness areas throughout the study, those living in areas that increased their greenness from low in 2011 to high in 2016 had 15% lower odds of developing heart disease.
Among participants who developed a cardiovascular condition during follow-up, those whose neighborhood became greener developed 9% fewer new heart conditions compared to residents of localities with continually low levels of greenness throughout the study.
The team says that multiple factors may account for these observations. For instance, people living in greener areas may do more outdoor exercise and might feel less stressed due to being surrounded by nature.
In addition, vegetation could provide some protection from air and/or noise pollution. This is an area for further exploration.
They say that tree planting and greening of neighborhoods is associated with multiple benefits and offers a relatively low-cost investment to enhance health and well-being in many circumstances.
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The study was presented at ESC Congress 2021. One author of the study is Dr. William Aitken.
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