According to a study published in Science Advances, parks and green spaces not only help reduce heat and promote biodiversity but also help slow cellular aging. On average, people living near green spaces are biologically 2.5 years younger than the rest of the population.
The study’s lead author, Kyeezu Kim of Northwestern University School of Medicine, stated that living near green areas can make a person younger than their actual age indicates. He further added that these findings have significant implications for urban planning, expanding green infrastructure, promoting public health, and reducing health disparities.
Previous research had already shown that exposure to green space is associated with better cardiovascular health and lower mortality rates. However, it was not known whether this also affected cellular aging.
To find out, the research team focused on chemical changes in DNA, known as “methylation.” The researchers followed more than 900 people in four US cities for 20 years. Using satellite imagery, they measured the distance between participants’ homes and parks and took blood samples in the 15th and 20th years of the study to determine their biological age.
The results showed that people whose homes were surrounded by 30% vegetation within a five-kilometer radius had an average biological age 2.5 years younger than those whose homes had 20% vegetation.However, the benefits were not the same for everyone. Black people living near green space were only one year younger biologically than their age, while white people were three years younger.
As Kyeezu Kim explained, factors such as stress, the quality of green spaces, and other social factors can influence the degree of benefit. For example, parks located in disadvantaged neighborhoods and used for illegal activities are likely to be less frequented and therefore less beneficial.
Epidemiologist Manuel Franco, of Alcalá and Johns Hopkins universities, considered the study to be “well conceived.”