Leafier Communities, Healthier Hearts, Study Says

healthier hearts

A study by UNSW Sydney, published in Heart, Lung, and Circulation shows how various urban green spaces impact cardiovascular health. 

Previous studies highlighted that nearby green spaces reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease by promoting physical activity, reducing stress, and reducing air pollution. High-quality green spaces also help in promoting and reducing loneliness, which also ultimately improves heart health. However, there’s a limited understanding of which types of green spaces offer the best benefits. 

This research study was led by Professor Xiaoqi Feng from UNSW and Professor Thomas Astell-Burt from the University of Wollongong. They are also the Co-Directors of the Population Wellbeing and Environment Research Lab (PowerLab).

The study involved over 100,000 Australian adults living in apartments and houses. Analyzing the nearby green space as well as 10 years of hospitalization data.

“We were interested in where Australians are living… and what type and quantity of green space may have an impact on people’s hearts,” said Prof. Feng.

Positive Health Impacts for House Residents

The research study found that for those living in houses, green space was associated with a lower risk of heart disease-related mortality. However, not all green spaces provided the same level of health benefits.  More amount of a tree canopy, but no open grass provided the most health benefits.

“We find that people living in houses are more likely to benefit from living closer to trees and tree canopies – for their heart in particular,” Prof. Feng said. “This could reduce the risk of developing heart attack and heart disease-related mortality.”

The authors of the studies have many theories on why living in areas with more trees is beneficial to our health. For example, trees provide shade, and cooler temperatures, inviting more people to spend time in parks and green areas.

Study Results of People Living in Apartments

For those living in apartment buildings, green spaces weren’t associated with better heart benefits. The authors claim that there could be a number of reasons for this, to come to a conclusion, more research is needed.

“One reason is that apartments are normally quite dense and may be even crowded. So you can imagine that if you plant the same number of trees in a low-density area and then a high-density area, the ratio of trees to people changes,” Prof. Feng said.

“Also, even if there is some green space within or around your apartment block, it’s often not an area you can or would want to visit or permit children to play in. It’s there to tick a box but offers few qualities to attract people to spend time there.”

Urban Planning for Healthier Communities

The importance of green spaces is growing worldwide. In countries like the US, and Canada, healthcare professionals are encouraging patients to spend more time out in green spaces. 

It’s important to set up green spaces in urban planning, to solve major issues of climate change and city crowding. Prof. Feng’s research also highlighted the City of Sydney’s $377 million strategy to plan 700 new trees annually for 10 years. The city’s plan is to reach 40% green coverage by 2050.

“This research is important for Australia, with the massive urbanization we can see in Sydney and Melbourne, and worldwide… We should learn more about what type and quality of green space we should have around every apartment block, to ensure everyone has the opportunity to benefit from nature,” Prof. Feng said.

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