People living near green spaces are at lower risk of metabolic syndrome

Middle-aged and older adults that live in greener neighborhoods are at lower risk of developing metabolic syndrome than those living in areas with less green spaces, according to a new study published in the journal Environmental Pollution.

The longitudinal study used data from over 6,000 adults aged between 45 and 69 at the start of the study from the Whitehall II cohort from the United Kingdom. Participants underwent four examinations over a period of 14 years, 1997 to 2013, with a series of tests including blood analysis, blood pressure, and waist circumference measurements. Residential greenness was determined by satellite images.

These findings suggest that long-term exposure to green spaces can play an important role in preventing metabolic syndrome, as well as individual components such as large waist circumference, high levels of blood fats, or hypertension.

The mechanisms underlying this association could be related to better opportunities provided by green spaces to perform physical activity as well as a decrease in exposure to air pollution, according to Carmen de Keijzer, PhD, first author of the study. The association observed was higher for women than for men.

Metabolic syndrome is a cluster of conditions that occur together and include obesity, hypertension, high blood sugar levels, and abnormal fat levels. It is a major risk factor for non-communicable diseases such as heart attacks, diabetes, or stroke. To date, several studies have analyzed the relationship between exposure to green spaces and individual components of metabolic syndrome.

Green spaces could help reduce the burden of non-communicable diseases, one of the top priorities in public health nowadays, according to Payam Dadvand, PhD, last author of the study.

"The study found more health benefits in those areas with higher tree coverage, which provides a basis for investigating the types of vegetation that impact positively on our health,” said Dadvand. “We need greener cities if we want healthier cities.”