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How green spaces could increase life expectancy

The idea that access to natural environments improves health has now been bolstered by strong evidence.

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A beautiful young asian woman enjoy listening to music with headphone with feeling happy and relaxed in the park
Researchers predict that even small amounts of green spaces in urban centers could be very beneficial. (Blue Titan via Shutterstock)

By Pol Allingham via SWNS

Boosting green spaces could increase the life expectancy of people living in the poorest urban areas, according to a new study.

Every 10 percent increase in natural space is linked to a seven percent fall in early deaths among 65s, according to scientists now calling for natural spaces and private gardens to be an important feature in urban planning.

Increasing that green space could narrow the lifespan gap between rich and poor areas, they argue.

park in lujiazui financial center, Shanghai, China
(ESB Professional via Shutterstock)

The idea that access to natural environments improves health has now been bolstered by strong evidence.

The researchers sought to measure the “years of life lost” (YLL) to deduce whether access to natural space is actually associated with differences in lifespan and protection from early death.

Writing in the Journal of Epidemiology of Community Health they revealed the poorest areas had the least natural space and gardens as well as the highest levels of ill health.

They estimated those with 58.5 percent income deprivation had only 49-65 percent of their land covered in greenery.

people, race, ethnicity and portrait concept - happy african american young woman in summer park
(Ground Picture via Shutterstock)

Every 10 percent increase in natural space came with a seven percent fall in premature deaths, the research found.

More natural space also corresponded with a smaller disparity of YLL between the most and least deprived areas.

Areas with more natural space had less of a split in average lifespan between the most and least deprived areas.

Even having moderate levels of natural space seemed to make a difference.

The researchers said: “In practice, not everyone can live in an area with a high percentage of green or natural space; however, this does not mean that even small amounts of such areas are not beneficial.

“An increased amount of natural/green spaces within local areas has the potential to reduce the disparity in YLL between the most and least income deprived areas — the ‘equigenic’ effect.

“Natural spaces and private gardens should be an important feature in any building/ development planning."

“This could provide an additional public-health tool to reduce the large health inequities that exist for deprived populations, indigenous peoples, and other ethnic minorities.”

To collect their results the researchers used data from the 2016 Scottish Burden of Disease, used to reflect the gap between expected and actual lifespan for men and women under 65 living in Scotland at the time.

The YLL data was divided up by datazone, defined as a geographical unit of approximately 500 to 1,000 household residents that align with physical boundaries and natural communities.

cropped image of woman gardening
(Juice Flair via Shutterstock)

The datazones were all regular in shape and contained households with similar social characteristics.

The Ordnance Survey Mastermap was then used to track areas of natural space or private gardens in square meters, which could include woodland, scattered trees, scrub, marsh, heath, open water, semi-natural grassland, grass on sports pitches, roadside verges, and farmland, agriculture, rocks, boulders, cliffs, sand, soil, and foreshore.

They suggested the natural environment is beneficial because it has driven human evolution.

Moreover, it facilitates physical activity, absorbs air pollution and may boost the diversity of helpful microbes.

Researchers were reassured by their findings echoing other studies.

A young girl pulling up onions on an allotment
(Air Images via Shutterstock)

However, it was an observational study and cannot establish cause and effect.

The team acknowledged they did not have potentially influential data on: Individual lifestyle behavior, personal economic circumstances, how often people used local natural space, or the quality of natural space.

They admitted: “Substantial knowledge gaps remain, including limited understanding of what aspects of the natural environment are protective, which biological mechanisms are involved and how we can most effectively apply this knowledge to reduce the increasing burden of non-communicable diseases.”

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