Living Near Green Space Slows Aging

Residing close to green space may result in feeling younger.
Residing close to green space may result in feeling younger. Credit: Michael Camplejohn / Flickr / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

City parks and green areas are essential for mitigating heat, enhancing biodiversity, and creating a peaceful atmosphere amidst the bustling urban environment. A recent study reveals that these green spaces also play a role in decelerating the natural aging process.

Individuals who have the privilege of accessing such areas were found to be approximately 2.5 years younger biologically, on average, compared to those who lack such opportunities.

Kyeezu Kim, the study’s lead author and a postdoctoral scholar at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine, said, “Living near more greenness can help you be younger than your actual age.”

Research to support this hypothesis

The research has established a connection between exposure to green spaces, improved cardiovascular health, and lower mortality rates.

While the positive impact of physical activity and social interactions in parks has been acknowledged, it has remained uncertain whether these spaces actually influence the aging process at a cellular level.

Grecian Delight supports Greece

To delve into this matter, the study group focused on examining chemical modifications in DNA called “methylation.”

Studies have demonstrated that “epigenetic clocks” based on DNA methylation can serve as reliable predictors of health conditions, including cardiovascular disease, cancer, and cognitive function, and provide a more accurate measure of age than simply counting calendar years.

Study design

In a retrospective study design, the study team, led by Kim and his colleagues, observed over 900 individuals, encompassing white and Black populations, residing in four American cities: Birmingham, Chicago, Minneapolis, and Oakland.

By utilizing satellite imaging, the researchers determined the proximity of the participants’ residential addresses to surrounding vegetation and parks. This data was then paired with blood samples collected at the 15th and 20th years of the study to assess their biological age.

To ensure accurate analysis, the team created statistical models that accounted for various factors, such as education, income, and behavioral habits like smoking, which could potentially influence the outcomes.

The findings revealed that individuals residing in homes with approximately 30 percent green coverage within a five-kilometer (three-mile) radius were, on average, 2.5 years biologically younger than those residing in homes with only 20 percent green coverage.

However, the benefits of green space were not distributed equally. Black individuals with greater access to green areas were found to be approximately one year biologically younger, while their white counterparts exhibited a more substantial difference of three years.

Inferences from the study

In certain instances, the advantages of parks may be diminished due to factors such as being underutilized or associated with illicit activities in economically disadvantaged areas.

Green spaces provide a refreshing sanctuary amidst the busy city environment
Green spaces provide a refreshing sanctuary amidst the busy city environment. Credit: J Mark Dodds / Flickr / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Moving forward, it is crucial to understand the connection between green spaces and specific health outcomes. The precise mechanisms through which greenery slows down the aging process are not yet fully understood. However, it is evident that it does have an impact, as highlighted by Kim.

Esteemed epidemiologist Manuel Franco, affiliated with the University of Alcala and Johns Hopkins, praised the study as a well-executed and thoughtfully designed research endeavor. He said, “We have more and better scientific evidence to increase and promote the use of urban green spaces.”

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