Time in nature may help slow down Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s

Credit: Takahiro Sakamoto / Unsplash

In a study from Harvard University, scientists found that living in an area with easy access to parks and rivers appears to slow the progression of devastating neurological diseases, such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.

They tracked disease risk among nearly 62 million Americans 65 years old and up for more than a decade and a half.

Prior research showed that natural environments—such as forests, parks, and rivers—can help to reduce stress and restore attention.

In addition, natural environments provide settings for physical activity and social interactions and may reduce exposure to air pollution, extreme heat, and traffic noise.

In the study, the team looked at hospital admissions for Alzheimer’s and related dementia, as well as Parkinson’s disease.

By focusing on hospital admission, they stressed that his team was not assessing the initial risk for developing either disease.

Instead, researchers wanted to know if increased exposure to nature lowered the odds that either disease would progress quickly.

They found strong protective links: The greener an older individual’s surrounding environment, the lower their risk of hospitalization for either neurological illness.

The finding could have bearing on millions of Americans, given that Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s are among the most common neurological diseases in the United States.

To explore the potential protective benefit of nature, the researchers focused on seniors on Medicare living in the U.S. mainland between 2000 and 2016.

Over the study’s 16 years, nearly 7.7 million were hospitalized for Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia, and nearly 1.2 million were hospitalized for Parkinson’s.

Throughout, researchers stacked each patient’s ZIP code up against several types of geological survey data that collectively tallied a region’s overall “greenness.”

That data included the amount of vegetation present, as well as the percentage of land devoted to parks and waterways.

In the end, the green number-crunching yielded mixed results.

On one hand, the team found no evidence that patients living in areas with more parks and waterways had a lower risk of being hospitalized with Alzheimer’s.

But the risk of hospitalization did fall among those who lived in areas with more vegetation overall.

Results were even more positive with respect to the movement disorder Parkinson’s: By all measures studied, living in a greener environment meant a lower risk for hospitalization.

The team says living in or around the green and blue spaces may have many beneficial health impacts, including less pollution, stress and noise.

If you care about brain health, please read studies about Vitamin E that may help prevent Parkinson’s disease, and Vitamin D could benefit people with Parkinson’s disease.

For more information about brain health, please see recent studies about how Alzheimer’s attacks the brain, and results showing this stroke drug shows promise in treating Alzheimer’s and dementia.

The study was conducted by Jochem Klompmaker et al and published in JAMA Network Open.

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