Living near green spaces in Birmingham will make you 2.5 years younger, says study

Birmingham Mountain High Hikers at Ruffner Mountain. (Pat Byington/)Bham Now)

Living near green spaces like parks and areas with a lot of plants is the secret to aging slower, according to a study conducted by Northwestern University and supported by UAB.

Birmingham – One of Four Cities

Ruffner Mountain 6 Living near green spaces in Birmingham will make you 2.5 years younger, says study
(Ruffner Mountain)

The study involved more than 900 individuals residing in four cities across the U.S.: 

  • Birmingham
  • Chicago
  • Minneapolis
  • Oakland 

Published in Science Advance, Northwestern Medicine reported:

“People who lived near more green spaces were biologically 2.5 years younger, on average, than those who lived near less greenness. The benefits of green spaces were not equal, however, as scientists found variations in race, sex and socioeconomic status.” 

Green spaces are beneficial

One Pratt Park 4 Living near green spaces in Birmingham will make you 2.5 years younger, says study
One Pratt Park in Pratt City built in the aftermath of the April 27, 2011 tornado outbreak.(Pat Byington/ Bham Now)

In a statement to Bham Now, Kevin R. Fontaine, PhD, Professor and Chair, UAB Department of Health Behavior said the results of the study are not surprising.

“It should not be surprising that green spaces are beneficial to physical and mental health. While I don’t think you can quantify the physiological or psychological benefits with a great deal of accuracy, exposing yourself to the calm and tranquility of nature can relieve stress, ground people in the present moment, and facilitate a sense of wonder and appreciation.” 

Green spaces promote public health

red mountain
Jerri Haslem with Red Mountain Park. (Jacob Blankenship/ Bham Now)

Northwestern’s Kyeezu Kim, PhD, first author on the study and a postdoctoral scholar in Preventive Medicine also stated in the news release about the research:

“When we think about staying healthy as we get older, we usually focus on things like eating well, exercising and getting enough sleep. However, our research shows that the environment we live in, specifically our community and access to green spaces, is also important for staying healthy as we age.”

Kim also said the findings link the need for more green infrastructure (parks, trails and open spaces) to promote public health.

Parks and trails

Freshwater Land Trust
Opening of the Five Mile Creek Trail extension (Freshwater Land Trust)

In Birmingham, Kim’s words and the Northwestern study is music to the ears of Freshwater Land Trust Executive Director Rusha Smith. It confirms the importance of the group’s efforts to expand green spaces and a trail network throughout Jefferson County.

“Northwestern, along with support from UAB, confirmed in its study what Freshwater Land Trust has been promoting since its inception: the importance of having green spaces in our lives.  

For example, the goal of the Red Rock Trail System master plan that we developed in 2010 with the Jefferson County Department of Health is for every county resident to ultimately have a trail or green space within one mile of their home. With 129 miles of the trail system on the ground, we are continuing to work towards that goal for the betterment of everyone in our community.”

Cool Green Trees

Screen Shot 2018 11 15 at 5.04.33 AM Living near green spaces in Birmingham will make you 2.5 years younger, says study
Planting native trees at East Lake Park. Photo courtesy of The Nature Conservancy

An additional Birmingham effort, the Cool Green Trees Initiative similarly understands the importance of accessible green spaces and exposure to nature. Supported by the Jefferson County Department of Health, the initiative launched this past year aiming to address disparities of tree cover in local neighborhoods.

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Pat Byington
Pat Byington

Longtime conservationist. Former Executive Director at the Alabama Environmental Council and Wild South. Publisher of the Bama Environmental News for more than 18 years. Career highlights include playing an active role in the creation of Alabama's Forever Wild program, Little River Canyon National Preserve, Dugger Mountain Wilderness, preservation of special places throughout the East through the Wilderness Society and the strengthening (making more stringent) the state of Alabama's cancer risk and mercury standards.

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