We have long suspected that exposure to nature and the great outdoors can have a beneficial impact on our stress level and overall happiness, but just how far do these benefits extend?  A new study says that living surrounded by ‘green areas’ may actually extend your life, ladies!

If you’ve been looking for a good excuse to increase the number of plants and trees and the overall ‘green space’ around your home, look no further. An eight year-long study conducted by researchers from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and Brigham and Women’s Hospital assessed the impact of regular exposure to natural vegetation to the overall life expectancy and mortality rate of women, and their findings may surprise you.

While previous studies have been conducted focusing on the overall positive impacts of being around nature, this study had a very specific focus. The researchers studied a group of 108,630 women between 2000 and 2008, observing a total of 8,604 deaths as well as other important health-related changes. At the same time, they used satellite imagery to determine the overall amount of ‘seasonal greenness’ that surrounded the home of each of the participants. Comparing the data, they uncovered a fascinating trend – those who lived in the ‘greenest’ areas have a 12% lower mortality rate than those who lived in the areas that were surrounded by the least vegetation.

“To the best of our knowledge, this is the first study that looks at residence-based exposure conducted across a broad geographic range, across the entire United States,” explained the study’s lead author Peter James. If you’re living in the city, however, don’t fret! The study isn’t suggesting you have to live out in the middle of a forest. In fact, to that point, James stated, “I want to point out that 84 percent of study participants live in urban areas. We are not saying you need to live near a park.” However, even in the middle of a busy metropolis, we can choose to add vegetation to our lives through the addition of houseplants and patio gardens. Furthermore, James and his team hope that the study’s findings may impact the decision made by urban planners, creating neighborhoods that embrace the existence of green spaces.

“Policies to increase vegetation may provide opportunities for physical activity, reduce harmful exposures, increase social engagement, and improve mental health,” the team revealed. “While planting vegetation may mitigate effects of climate change, evidence of an association between vegetation and lower mortality rates suggests it also might be used to improve health.”

Not surprisingly, the biggest differences discovered included the rate of respiratory-related illnesses which were 34% lower among those in highly vegetated areas and the number of cancer-related deaths which were down 13% in those same areas. What specifically is the benefit? The research team uncovered a number of reasons we may be seeing this result including decreased air pollution, noise pollution, and extreme heat.

“We were surprised to observe such strong associations between increased exposure to greenness and lower mortality rates,” James stated. “We were even more surprised to find evidence that a large proportion of the benefit from high levels of vegetation seems to be connected with improved mental health.”

The connection between the natural environment and mental health certainly isn’t new, a connection that has long been recognized and studied. However, many of these studies looked at the benefits of immersing oneself in the natural environment such as going for a hike or spending time at a wilderness retreat.

While the study does focus solely on the benefits of living around vegetation on women, the researchers believe that the benefits can also be translated to the male population. So, if you’re looking to live a little longer it may be time to boost the greenery around your own home!

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