Women live longer in areas abundant in trees and plants, according to a new study conducted by scientists at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston.
In fact, women who live among the very highest levels of vegetation have a 12 percent lower death rate compared to women with the lowest levels of vegetation near their homes. The biggest differences in death rates were from kidney disease, respiratory disease, and cancer.
“It is important to know that trees and plants provide health benefits in our communities, as well as beauty,” said Linda Birnbaum, Ph.D, director of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS). “The finding of reduced mortality suggests that vegetation may be important to health in a broad range of ways.”
When trying to figure out why a green environment might lower death rates, the researchers found that living in greenery significantly improves mental health and social engagement and also contributes to increased physical activity and reduced air pollution.
The study, funded by the NIEHS, examined greenness around the homes of 108,630 women already participating in the long-term Nurses’ Health Study. The researchers mapped home locations and used high resolution satellite imagery to figure out levels of vegetation within a mile of their homes. They kept track of the women from 2000 to 2008, following any changes in vegetation around their homes as well as participant deaths.
The findings showed a strong correlation between high levels of trees and plants around homes and reduced mortality rates in women. The link remained strong for separate causes of death and when all causes were combined.
When comparing women in the highest green areas to women in the lowest areas of greenery, the researchers found a 41 percent lower death rate for kidney disease, 34 percent lower death rate for respiratory disease, and 13 percent lower death rate for cancer in the greenest areas.
“The ability to examine vegetation in relatively fine detail around so many homes, while also considering the characteristics of the individual participants, is a major strength of this study,” said Bonnie Joubert, Ph.D., NIEHS scientific program director overseeing the study.
“This builds on prior studies showing the health benefits of greenness that used community-level or regional data.”
The researchers also looked at factors that could potentially contribute to death risk, such as age, race, ethnicity, smoking and socioeconomic status. This allowed them to be more confident that living around greenery plays a role in reduced mortality, rather than these factors.
The findings are published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives.