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Researchers find new health benefits of living near green spaces — including slowing down aging process

The study reinforces the importance of green spaces in urban areas.

The study reinforces the importance of green spaces in urban areas.

Photo Credit: iStock

Being outside just feels good on a soul level — it helps you reconnect to nature, boosts your mental health, and creates opportunities to socialize with friends. 

Now, a new study reveals another reason to love the great outdoors. Researchers found that people living near green spaces such as parks or forests age slower than those in dense urban environments. 

Published in Science of the Total Environment, the study found that people living in areas with more greenery had longer telomeres, a major marker of cellular health. Telomeres are repeating DNA sequences located at the end of every cell's 46 chromosomes that protect DNA from damage. 

In general, longer telomeres are linked to healthier cells, supporting cell division and chromosome replication. With each cell division, the telomeres shorten until they become too short for cells to divide, resulting in cell death. 

"This makes telomeres important markers of biological age, or how worn down our cells are," said Scott Ogletree, a University of Edinburgh landscape and wellbeing lecturer and co-author of a paper on the study, in a press release. "And we know that many variables – such as stress – can influence how quickly our telomeres wear down." 

For the study, the research team analyzed the medical records of over 7,800 people and used census data to determine how much green space was in each person's neighborhood. They found that every 5% additional green space in a neighborhood led to a 1% decrease in cell aging. 

Unfortunately, access to green space didn't have the same positive impact on participants who lived in polluted and economically or racially segregated areas. 

"Research is now showing that where we live, what we are exposed to, how much we exercise, what we eat, each of these can impact the speed of telomeres degrading and again our aging process," Aaron Hipp, a professor of parks, recreation and tourism management at North Carolina State and a co-author of the study, told the Guardian.

The study reinforces the importance of green spaces in urban areas since they benefit human health and the planet by reducing air pollution and flooding. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, adding greenery to cities also reduces the urban heat island effect, a phenomenon that causes urbanized areas to have much higher temperatures than the surrounding countryside.

While living near green spaces offers plenty of benefits, the study's authors said there's still a lot of work ahead to help vulnerable communities. 

"This study drives home the idea that creating greenspace in a community is important, but it's as crucial – or more crucial – for us to address environmental harms, particularly those tied to systemic racism," Hipp said in the NC State press release.

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