Contact with green space is known to have beneficial effects for mental health. A new study by the Barcelona Institute for Global Health (ISGlobal), a centre supported by the “la Caixa” Foundation, suggests that it may also play a positive role against cognitive decline in the elderly. In particular, this research published in Environmental Health Perspectives shows that the common age-related loss in cognitive function is slightly slower in people who live in greener neighbourhoods.
Researchers performed a 10-year follow-up of 6,500 people aged 45 to 68 from the Whitehall II cohort in the U.K. At three different time points during the course of the study, participants completed a battery of cognitive tests that assessed their verbal and mathematical reasoning, verbal fluency and short-term memory, as well as the decline in these functions. Neighbourhood green space for each participant was estimated using satellite images.
“There is evidence that the risk for dementia and cognitive decline can be affected by exposure to urban-related environmental hazards (such as air pollution and noise) and lifestyle (such as stress and sedentary behavior). In contrast, living near green spaces has been proposed to increase physical activity and social support, reduce stress, and mitigate exposure to air pollution and noise. Recent evidence has shown cognitive benefits of green space exposure in children, but studies on the possible relations of exposure to green spaces and cognitive decline in older adults are still very scarce and often have inconsistent results,” says Carmen de Keijzer, ISGlobal researcher and first author of the study.
“Our data show that the decline in the cognitive score after the 10-year follow-up was 4.6 percent smaller in participants living in greener neighbourhoods. Interestingly enough, the observed associations were stronger among women, which makes us think that these relations might be modified by gender,” Carmen de Keijzer adds.
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