Higher exposure to vegetation linked to lower mortality rates in women


If you were debating whether or not to retire at the cottage, new research from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and the Brigham and Women’s Hospital might help.

The eight-year study found a link between women who surrounded themselves with vegetation and life expectancy. The women who lived in homes surrounded by trees and other plants had improved mental health and overall lower mortality rates.

“We were surprised to observe such strong associations between increased exposure to greenness and lower mortality rates,” said Peter James, research associate in the Harvard Chan School Department of Epidemiology.

“We were even more surprised to find evidence that a large proportion of the apparent benefit from high levels of vegetation seems to be connected with improved mental health.”

Although nature has long been used as a remedy for mental and physical ailments, and researchers have shown that nature can fight stress, lower your blood pressure, and even stave off depression, this was the first to look at the link between vegetation and mortality rates on a nationwide scale over a period of several years.

The data was based on more than 108,000 American women, who were enrolled in the study from 2000 to 2008. During this period, the researchers compared the participants’ rate of mortality with the amount of vegetation that surrounded their homes, which was determined using satellite imagery.

But the researchers didn’t just look at mortality rates—they also looked at specific cause of death and found even more striking results. After accounting for other mortality risk factors, like age and socioeconomic status, the researchers found that women living in areas with the most vegetation had a 34 percent lower rate of respiratory disease-related death and a 13 percent lower rate of cancer-related death when compared to those living with the least vegetation around their home.

“We know that planting vegetation can help the environment by reducing wastewater loads, sequestering carbon, and mitigating the effects of climate change,” said James. “Our new findings suggest a possible co-benefit—improving health—that presents planners, landscape architects, and policy makers with a potential tool to grow healthier places.”