SANTE: A link between living near green spaces and the risk of stroke exists.

Green spaces give you more than just a place to stretch your legs — they can also affect your risk of hav­ing a stroke, accord­ing to a new study that links prox­im­i­ty to green spaces with a 16% reduc­tion in stroke risk.

For research pur­pos­es, near­by green spaces were count­ed as those with­in 300 meters or one-fifth of a mile from the house. Data from the pub­lic health sys­tem cov­er­ing more than 3.5 mil­lion adults in the Cat­alo­nia region of Spain was col­lect­ed in 2016 and 2017.

Although the data does not show that green spaces are the direct cause of reduced stroke risk, the researchers note that the asso­ci­a­tion is strong enough to war­rant fur­ther inves­ti­ga­tion — and to sup­port the idea that hav­ing more nature around is ben­e­fi­cial for our health.

“The study demon­strates the impor­tance of envi­ron­men­tal deter­mi­nants in stroke risk,” says neu­rol­o­gist Car­la Avel­lane­da, from IMIM-Hos­pi­tal del Mar in Barcelona, Spain.

“Giv­en that the inci­dence, mor­tal­i­ty and dis­abil­i­ty attrib­uted to the dis­ease are expect­ed to increase in the com­ing years, it is impor­tant to under­stand all of the risk fac­tors involved.”

Green­ery and nat­ur­al spaces can improve health in sev­er­al ways: they can reduce stress, they can pro­vide places for peo­ple to exer­cise, and they can pro­tect men­tal health. There also appears to be an effect on the like­li­hood of cere­brovas­cu­lar problems.

There are many more fac­tors to con­sid­er than near­by green­ery of course. The team also looked at three air pol­lu­tants in the same study: nitro­gen diox­ide (NO2), par­ti­cles small­er than 2.5 microns (PM2.5) and soot particles.

As found in pre­vi­ous stud­ies, greater expo­sure to these pol­lu­tants was linked to a greater risk of stroke. Pre­vi­ous stud­ies have also shown that greater expo­sure to these pol­lu­tants is linked to a slight­ly high­er risk of stroke. In this recent analy­sis, for exam­ple, for every 10 micro­gram increase in NO2 per cubic meter, the risk increas­es by 4%.

“You have to keep in mind that, unlike oth­er air pol­lu­tants, which have var­i­ous sources, NO2 is main­ly caused by road traf­fic,” says envi­ron­men­tal epi­demi­ol­o­gist Cathryn Tonne, researcher at ISGlobal.

“There­fore, if we are seri­ous about reduc­ing the mul­ti­ple risks this pol­lu­tant pos­es to peo­ple’s health, we need to put in place bold mea­sures to reduce car use.”

These links – between green space and stroke risk, and air pol­lu­tants and stroke risk – have been report­ed before, but few pre­vi­ous stud­ies have looked at such a large sam­ple and entered into so many details by exam­in­ing both near­by green­ery and air quality.

Fur­ther research could exam­ine exact­ly why more green space in an area appears to help reduce the risk of stroke for the peo­ple who live there. The researchers are also call­ing for a review of reg­u­la­tions on per­mit­ted lev­els of pol­lu­tants in cities.

Asso­ci­a­tions between stroke risk, green spaces and pol­lu­tants remained even when con­trol­ling for socioe­co­nom­ic fac­tors, age and smok­ing habits — sug­gest­ing that we pay a price in terms of health when we choose to live in urban areas.

“We must strive to cre­ate more sus­tain­able cities where liv­ing does not mean an increased risk of dis­ease,” says neu­rol­o­gist Jaume Roquer, also from IMIM-Hos­pi­tal del Mar.

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