The Health Effects of Urban Green Space

Those of us who live in the Ottawa region treasure our urban park lands and the woods and wilderness nearby that give us amazing opportunities for recreation and adventure. While we sense that our urban green spaces make us happy, there is mounting scientific evidence to support the idea that living among ample trees and vegetation can have a significant positive impact on our heath and life-expectancy.

Research has demonstrated that women who live in greener neighbourhoods tend to give birth to healthy, high-birth-weight babies. Residents of such neighbourhoods tend to exercise more, leading to lower rates of obesity and diabetes. And recently, a group of Canadian researchers has found that those who live in urban areas with more trees and other vegetation had an 8-12% reduced risk of dying.

The research, which focused on 1.3 million people in thirty Canadian cities, tracked patterns of mortality over more than a decade and appeared in a recent issue of the international journal The Lancet Planetary Health. While researchers expected to find some positive association between greenness and well-being, they were surprised by the strength of the protective effect of living near vegetation. Interestingly, they found that, while parks and other larger green areas are important, having green space around your property is just as beneficial. The results suggest that planning city streets with green features, such as medians and treed sidewalks, and preserving yards and gardens amid apartment blocks could provide important benefits to public health.

While the research does not break down how the benefits of greenness might vary from city to city, those of us who live in Ottawa understand how our urban green spaces are related to our quality of life. Ottawa is often identified as one of the most desirable places to live in Canada, and surely the city's greenery is among its greatest assets.

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