Everyone knows a walk in the park or the woods is good for the soul. But did you know it might also be good for your heart?
More and more research shows that spending time in green spaces boosts heart health. In a study in the Journal of the American Heart Association in 2018, researchers found that people who lived in areas with lots of trees had lower stress levels and a lower risk for heart attacks and strokes. Women were most likely to get a heart benefit.
In another study in the journal, people in the greenest parts of Miami-Dade County in Florida were 25% less likely than those in the least green areas to have had a heart attack over a two-year time period.
No wonder people who live in very green areas also live longer, according to a 2016 study in Environmental Health Perspectives. The study of more than 100,000 women showed that those who had the most trees and plants within 800 feet of their homes had a 12% lower risk of an early death than people living in the least green places.
How nature helps the heart
There are several possible reasons for these helpful effects. For one thing, living close to parks and other green places may encourage people to get out and exercise, which makes the heart stronger and healthier. Research has also shown that the more green space city residents are exposed to, the less likely they are to be overweight, which is associated with heart problems. Those with greater access to these green zones also had lower weight measurements.
Plus, being in nature lowers stress which can also help reduce high blood pressure, a major heart risk factor, research shows. Data suggest that access to green areas also appears to improve mood and decrease problems like depression and anxiety, which are linked to worse heart health. And trees help to absorb heat in cities, which may protect people from heat-related illnesses that add stress to the heart.
Ways to go green!
Not everyone is lucky enough to have a big backyard, but often there is a park, a greenway, or outdoor recreation area nearby. Doctors suggest trying to get out into a green space several times a week. Here’s how:
- Volunteer for a park cleanup.
- Take your kids or grandchildren on hikes or picnics.
- Cultivate a garden—one of your own or a plot in a community garden.
- Take your workout outdoors. Instead of walking on a treadmill or cycling on a stationary bike inside, stroll in the park or cycle in a natural area.
- Walk a dog—yours or a neighbor’s. It will help you and your pooch!
- Commute on your community greenway by bicycle or on foot. You’ll get the added bonus of regular exercise.
Accessing green space in your neighborhood or nearby could be one of the easiest ways to boost your heart health and feel better day-to-day. Best of all, it’s free!