The “great outdoors” never fails to disappoint and if you need hard facts to back up that idiom there’s another recent study that does just that. Not only does living near lush green spaces provide us with a beautiful reprieve to walk through daily to help break up the monotony of sheltering in place— but it also provides a host of benefits for our cardiovascular health.
The following study co-authored by researchers Daniel W. Riggs, Ray Yeager, Daniel J. Conklin, Natasha Dejarnett, Rachel J. Keith, Andrew P. DeFilippis, Shesh N. Rai, and Aruni Bhatnagar show a promising correlation between heart health and living near rural areas.
The research team at the University of Louisville took a sample size of 73 participants in this case study that were considered moderate to high risk for cardiovascular disease to test their theory that posits green space helps minimize pollutants that can negatively affect blood flow to the heart and other essential organs. What did the results indicate?
The case study
This research funded by the University of Louisville looked at 73 participants to deduce the myriad benefits reflected in parties that lived closer to areas densely populated with trees, shrubs, grass, and other local flora and fauna. The method used to measure the abundance of green areas close to the group being studied was estimated using a satellite-derived normalized difference vegetation index. This satellite technology looked at the density of foliage within about half a mile from where they claimed residency.
The median average age of participants was 52 years old and all of them reported having had a medical history of cardiovascular health problems. Participants were in a high-risk category for myocardial infarctions based on their medical history of afflictions such as diabetes, high cholesterol, obesity, and high blood pressure. Furthermore, 79 percent of participants in the experimental group had hypertension from a buildup of plaque on artery walls. More specifically researchers wanted to measure the environmental factors that contributed to the level of arterial stiffness in 79 percent of individuals with conditions like an atrial colossus and arterial mitosis who lived in low vegetation areas.
The presence of trees in densely populated areas helps to reduce levels of air pollution that can potentially contribute to poor vascular health. I’m sure you recall from your environmental science studies class that trees produce oxygen and remove carbon dioxide and other harmful contaminants from the atmosphere. When the air quality is better in your city, the overall cardiovascular health of its citizens also improves.
This preliminary research has yet to be peer-reviewed and co-authors of the abstract emphasized that these findings mean people who live in areas with less vegetation have higher ozone levels in their community which can correlate with but not necessarily cause more heart problems. There are many determining factors that can cause these issues. Obviously, a healthy lifestyle such as exercise, a heart-healthy diet, and refraining from smoking noxious chemical additives found in tobacco products contribute to overall health as well. Just because you plant a tree outside your house doesn’t mean you can completely avoid heart problems down the line, but it can mitigate the negative effects air pollution can cause in regards to our heart health.
The study applied in the real world
You can witness this correlative effect in real-time when comparing the pollution index of metropolitan cities like New York City with more rural areas like Burlington, Vermont that champions a greener way of life and how it relates to the health conditions most commonly experienced by people who live in those respective areas. This recent press release might ward some of you with underlying heart conditions to avoid moving to the big apple altogether. “Though it can be easy to take the air we breathe for granted, air pollution poses serious health risks for city dwellers, including heart disease, lung cancer and asthma. The city recently estimated that up to 2,700 premature deaths a year could be attributed to fine particulate matter and ozone in the air—more than eight times the number of murders that took place in 2013.”
Burlington is a different story with far more initiatives in place to reduce carbon emissions and plenty of wide-open spaces to get some much needed fresh air. The less outdoor pollution the better chance we have in avoiding plaque build-up in our arteries.
This brief outlines the benefits of living in Vermont. “The American Lung Association’s 2019 ‘State of the Air’ report found Vermont’s Burlington- South Burlington-Barre metro area is ranked as the 12th cleanest city for year-round particle pollution in the U.S. and was one of only 6 cities nationwide to also record zero bad air days for ozone and short-term pollution. Vermont is repeatedly considered one of the cleanest states for air quality in the U.S.”