Make neighborhoods green for heart health? The idea is taking root

Two smiling senior women walking outdoors

By American Heart Association News

Neighborhoods filled with trees, grass and other flora not only improve the air and clear the mind – they also can reduce heart disease risk, recent studies suggest.

Researchers say this may be more vital in low-income areas, whether that’s an inner-city neighborhood swallowed up by concrete and metal or a suburb surrounded by driveways and blacktop playgrounds.

Green spaces often provide room for physical activity, an essential element for a heart-healthy lifestyle. But just living in a neighborhood dense with trees, bushes and other vegetation may reduce people’s risk of having a heart attack, stroke and other cardiovascular events, according to a 2018 study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association. Those residents had lower stress levels and healthier blood vessel health – both reducing the risk for developing cardiovascular diseases.

The connection between stress and cardiovascular health isn’t as well understood as the connection between exercise and cardiovascular health, said Dr. John Balmes, a professor of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco. “But there’s pretty good (research) showing that stress is not good for your cardiovascular system,” he said.

Stress contributes to poor health habits, but it also is believed to trigger inflammation that may increase blood pressure and hormones that encourage fatty buildup along artery walls.

Green spaces also help ease the impact of climate change, said Balmes, a professor of environmental health at the University of California, Berkeley.

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