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This One Spot in Your Neighborhood Predicts Your Health

This One Spot in Your Neighborhood Predicts Your Health

Get outside and start living in the green.

Parks are more than just somewhere to walk your dog or play with the kids. The presence of parks in your neighborhood can also improve your health. The Gallup-Sharecare American Well-Being Index found parks were associated with a number of health metrics, including less obesity, diabetes and heart disease, more productivity and better mental health.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that parks can increase physical activity, improve mental health, reduce pollution, provide an increased sense of community and safe spaces to play and exercise. Here’s how parks and green spaces in your neighborhood can help you live a longer and healthier life.

Good for your body
Some of the US’s most deadly diseases can be reduced by having access to parks and green spaces. A September 2016 study of more than 108,000 women found that women who live in areas with the most greenness had a 12 percent lower rate of mortality than those who lived in the least green neighborhoods. Obesity is a contributor to heart disease, stroke, diabetes, some types of cancer, osteoarthritis and reproductive problems. Parks can help cut down on obesity. A 2011 review of studies found that two-thirds of the studies reviewed showed that more green spaces were linked to less obesity or obesity-related measurements. 

Heart disease, the nation’s number one cause of death, is also found less often in places with more green space. A 2015 review of studies suggests that fewer people had high blood pressure in neighborhoods with shade trees (among other factors). Another study in the same review suggested neighborhoods with more green space had fewer people die from circulatory disease. A third study in the review suggests that heart disease rose in neighborhoods that lost trees to a parasite outbreak.

The benefits don’t stop there, either. A 2013 study published in Diabetes Care looked at the neighborhoods of more than 267,000 Australians. It found 13 percent less diabetes in areas with the most green space compared to neighborhoods with the least.

Good for your mind
Parks and green space do more for your health than reduce disease. They’re good for your mind and mood, as well. A small 2010 study from Japan had groups of people walk through and view forests while others walked through and viewed cities. The forest groups had lower stress measurements than the city groups, and greater activation of their parasympathetic nervous systems, which control relaxation.

People are happier when they live in places with green space, according to a 2013 study of more than 10,000 people published in Psychological Science. The study found people reported greater life satisfaction and less mental distress when they lived in areas with more greenery.

And if you want to focus, head to the park. Another study published in Psychological Science—this one from 2008—found that memory improved for people who walked through a park, but not for people who walked in an urban area. Even just looking at photos of nature improved people’s memories more than looking at photos of cities.

Living in the green
One of the best ways to utilize your local park is to utilize it for exercise. Exercise is a great way to feel younger and lower your RealAge. Bike, run, do yoga or even use your body for resistance training. Check out these eight ways to exercise outdoors—no gym needed! 

Medically reviewed in February 2020.

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