Exposure to green space can increase cognitive health

Residential areas with more green space have been associated with faster thinking, better attention, and higher overall cognitive function in middle-aged women, according to an NIA-funded study. Posted in Open JAMA Network, the findings suggest that green space – such as trees, flowers, grass, gardens and parks – could be explored as a potential community-based approach to improve cognitive health.

For this study, a team of researchers from Boston University, Harvard University and the Alzheimer’s Disease Center at Rush University in Chicago analyzed cognitive tests and data on residential green spaces of 13,594 women with an average age of 61. years. The women were enrolled in Nurses’ Health Study II, a longitudinal study that examines risk factors for major chronic diseases in women. Participants performed online cognitive tests that measured psychomotor speed, attention, learning, and working memory. Then, using satellite imagery-based technology, the researchers determined the amount of green space around each participant’s home. The researchers evaluated the association between the amount of green space within walking distance of a participant’s home and her cognitive function.

They found that women who lived in areas with more green space had higher scores on thinking speed, attention, and overall cognitive function. From a cognitive perspective, this translated into 1.2 fewer years. However, living in an area with more green space did not affect learning or working memory, which involves keeping track of information while performing a task. This finding is consistent with another study that found living in green space neighborhoods was not associated with the size of the hippocampus, a part of the brain responsible for memory and learning.

Next, the team tested several factors that are thought to affect cognition, including neighborhood socioeconomic status (SES). In particular, among women living in neighborhoods with a higher SES, the positive association between green space and speed of thought and attention, as well as overall cognitive function, was greater. They also found that the effects of green space on cognition were not significantly affected by population density. This suggests that the cognitive benefits of green space extend to various contexts, such as urban neighborhoods.

Previous research has shown that green space is associated with reduced pollution levels, lower risk of depression, and increased physical activity, all of which can positively affect cognition. In this study, the researchers found that the positive impact of green space on thinking speed, attention and overall cognitive function cannot be explained by the effects of air quality or physical activity. However, they found that the cognitive benefit of living close to green space may be in part due to lower rates of depression. This explanation is supported by previous findings that higher exposure to green space is associated with a lower risk of depression. Given that depression is a risk factor for dementia, these findings also suggest that the use of green space can help reduce the risk of dementia.

As the authors noted, most of the participants were white; therefore, more research is needed to understand how racial disparities and socioeconomic factors affect the association between green space and cognitive function. They also noted that future studies should examine how people interact with the green space around them.

This nationwide study shows that green space exposure can support cognitive health. Furthermore, the findings support the need for further research on the use of green space exposure as a possible way to reduce the risks of cognitive decline and dementia in the elderly.

This research was supported in part by NIA grants 1K99AG066949-02, R01AG067497 and R01AG065359.

These activities refer toMilestone of NIH AD + ADRD Research Implementation 2.H, Continue to support interdisciplinary research to discover and understand common pathological mechanisms between AD and other neurodegenerative disorders, including rare disorders, and exploit them for the development of therapy. “

Jimenez MP, et al. Residential green space and cognitive function in a large cohort of middle-aged women. Open JAMA network. 2022; 5 (4): e229306. doi: 10.1001 / jamanetworkopen.2022.9306.

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