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Green spaces benefit health in urban areas

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Providing easily accessible public green spaces should be a priority in urban development or regeneration plans, according to a study reporting that they significantly lengthen elderly people’s lifespan.

The longitudinal cohort study showed that five year survival in men and women in densely populated urban areas in Tokyo (13 050 residents/km2) increased if they had space for strolling (73.8 v 55.7 percentage survival) and parks and tree lined streets (74.2 v 66.2 percentage survival) nearby and if they wanted to continue to live in their community. These variables accounted for half of the variance of all residential-environment variables tested by principal component analysis of baseline characteristics. Finally, odds ratios showed that local availability of walkable green spaces significantly predicted five year survival after adjustment for age, sex, and marital and socioeconomic states.

In 1989 the researchers identified representative samples of Tokyo residents born at five year intervals from 1903 to 1918 from residence registration records for two cities in the metropolitan area and secured agreement from them to a follow up survey. In 1992 the subjects’ residential environment, functional state, lifestyle, and socioeconomic state were determined by postal questionnaire. The 3144 respondents formed the study cohort; their five year survival was determined from residence records in 1997.

Access to public green spaces is assumed to satisfy the likes of urban dwellers, but whether it provides any health benefit is open to question. The researchers set out to study the health outcome by measuring survival—an unequivocal measure.

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