Living among plants could help women live longer, according to a new study.
Writing in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives, researchers from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and Brigham and Women’s Hospital found that women “who live in homes surrounded by more vegetation appear to have significantly lower mortality rates than those who live in areas with less vegetation.”
Over the course of an eight-year study, the researchers found that the mortality rate among women who lived in the greenest surroundings was 12 percent lower than for those living in homes in the least green areas.
“We were surprised to observe such strong associations between increased exposure to greenness and lower mortality rates,” said Peter James, research associate in the Harvard Chan School's Department of Epidemiology. “We were even more surprised to find evidence that a large proportion of the apparent benefit from high levels of vegetation seems to be connected with improved mental health.”
The study suggests that greenery improved mental health by lowering levels of depression. Greenery, researchers say, also afforded more opportunity for social engagement, higher physical activity levels and perhaps less exposure to air pollution.
For the study, the researchers looked at data from 108,630 women enrolled in the Nurse’s Health Study from 2000-2008 and compared their mortality rates as well as the amount of greenery surrounding their homes. They viewed satellite images to determine how much vegetation surrounded the properties.
Risk factors such as age, economic status, race, ethnicity and smoking were accounted for as well.
One of the biggest effects of greenery appeared to be a lowered risk of respiratory disease and cancer. The study found that women living in areas with the most greenery had a 34 percent lower rate of respiratory disease-related mortality and a 13 percent lower rate of cancer-related deaths.
“We know that planting vegetation can help the environment by reducing wastewater loads, sequestering carbon, and mitigating the effects of climate change. Our new findings suggest a possible co-benefit - improving health - that presents planners, landscape architects, and policy makers with a potential tool to grow healthier places,” said James.