Green Pastures Lead to Longer Lives for Women

New research points to the not-so-surprising discovery that having green plants around the house helps women live longer.

The results of the research was published in April 2016, in the journal “Environmental Health Perspectives.” Scientists were able to show that women surrounded by the highest amounts of greenery near their homes improved longevity by 12 percent, compared to women with the least amount of vegetation in the vicinity of their homes. The diseases the plants had the highest effect on were kidney disease, respiratory illness, and cancer.

Researchers studied how a green environment containing trees, shrubs and other plants, could lower rates of mortality. They found women in these environments were happier, with better mental health and social engagement. Also important was the increased physical activity women engaged in in a green area, as well as reduced levels of air pollution.

“It is important to know that trees and plants provide health benefits in our communities, as well as beauty,” said NIEHS director Linda Birnbaum, Ph.D. “The finding of reduced mortality suggests that vegetation may be important to health in a broad range of ways.”

The researchers were from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. They studied the homes of 108,630 women in the long-term Nurses’ Health Study.

The scientists used high resolution satellite images to map the locations of the homes and the level of vegetation within 250 and 1,250 meters of the homes. The women living in the homes were then followed from 2000 to 2008, while the changes in vegetation was also tracked. There were 8,604 deaths during the study.

The scientists observed lower mortality rates in the women as the concentration of trees and plants increased near their homes. This pattern was seen for separate causes of death and also for all the causes of death combined.

The comparison of mortality rates for women ensconced in the highest concentration of green, compared to the lowest is striking: there was a 41 percent lower death rate for kidney disease; 34 percent lower death rate for respiratory disease, and 13 percent lower for cancer.

“The ability to examine vegetation in relatively fine detail around so many homes, while also considering the characteristics of the individual participants, is a major strength of this study,” said Bonnie Joubert, Ph.D., NIEHS scientific program director overseeing the study. “This builds on prior studies showing the health benefits of greenness that used community-level or regional data.”