English actress and singer Millicent Martin cavorting in the snow, UK, 9th January 1963.  (Photo by ...

Parklife

Study: Being close to nature reduces the risk of stroke

Air pollution, unsurprisingly, increases it.

Evening Standard/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

An ever-growing list of health benefits has been linked to access to nature and green spaces. Among those listed in a report from the World Health Organization are better sleep, improved immune system health, better mental health, fewer heart attacks, and even better pregnancy outcomes.

Now, a new study found that people who live within 300 meters of a forest, farm, or city park were 16 percent less likely to experience the most common type of stroke.

Published in the journal Environment International, the study uses data from more than 3 million Spaniards and claims to be the largest of its kind from Europe to measure the association between air quality and stroke. The researchers also found that the risk for stroke increased steadily with their levels of exposure to common kinds of air pollution.

Science in Action — The researchers accessed anonymized data from the public health service of Catalonia, which covers nearly everyone in that region of Spain. They excluded people under 18, those who already had a stroke, people with incomplete data, and a few other categories to come to a dataset of 3,521,274 adults.

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During a period of two years (2016 and 2017), 10,865 of them had an ischemic stroke. That is the type — accounting for 87 percent of stroke cases — when blood supply to the brain is interrupted, cutting off oxygen and creating a life-threatening emergency.

Those with a higher exposure to air pollution at their homes were at greater risk.

The data included home addresses and the researchers found that people who lived within 300 meters of green space were 14 percent less likely to experience a stroke within those two years. (Catalonia’s biggest city, Barcelona, has, for a metropolis of its size, uniquely few large or central parks.)

Due to centuries of overdevelopment, park space is scarce in Barcelona. Shutterstock

Conversely, those with higher exposure to air pollution in their homes were at greater risk. Some specific pollutants were analyzed:

  • For every increase of 10 micrograms per cubic meter of nitrogen dioxide, the risk of stroke increases by four percent.
  • For every increase of five micrograms per cubic meter of fine particle matter, the risk also increases by four percent.
  • For every increase of one microgram per cubic meter of soot, the risk also increases by five percent.

How This Affects Longevity — Every year, more than 795,000 people in the United States have a stroke, according to the Centers for Disease Control. About 137,000 of them are fatal, making stroke the third-leading cause of death in the U.S., behind heart disease and cancer.

Stroke survivors are often left with disabilities, including loss of mobility, impaired speech, and cognitive problems.

Anyone can have an ischemic stroke, but they are often linked to other health conditions that tighten and restrict blood flow. High blood pressure, high cholesterol, smoking, obesity, and diabetes are all risk factors.

Why It’s a Hack — Green spaces may “provide a beneficial effect on health through different mechanisms,” the study concludes, “such as mental restoration and stress reduction, increased physical activity, improved social contacts/cohesion, and exposure to an enriched microbiome.”

As fresh air factories, they also have the effect of counteracting air pollution, which, as the study notes, is tied to an increased risk of stroke.

The results of the study do not show causation. But spending time outdoors has been linked to a litany of positive health impacts and there is reason to think it can help ease some of the factors that may accumulate into a stroke.

Hack Score — 5 out of 10 Sundays in the park 🌳🌳🌳🌳🌳

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