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The Health Report: Greenery Linked to Longer Lifespan in Women

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Living among trees, plants and flowers can fill your life with beauty. And if you are a woman, it can also help you live longer.

Researchers found that women who live in homes surrounded by plants appear to have lower death rates than women who live in areas with less greenery.

Researchers at Harvard University’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health reported the finding.

Peter James is a research associate in the school’s Department of Epidemiology. An epidemiologist is an expert in how disease spreads and how it can be controlled.

James and his team looked at information from one of the largest and oldest investigations of women’s health: the Nurse’s Health Study. The Nurse’s Health Study began 40 years ago and expanded in 1989. It now has information on nearly 200,000 women.

For the new study, the Harvard team looked at the mortality rates of more than 100,000 women between the years 2000 and 2008.

Then the researchers compared the mortality rates of these women to the greenery around their homes.

To determine the amount of trees and other vegetation, researchers examined satellite images.

The researchers considered other risk factors – things such as the age of the women, their economic status, race and ethnicity. They also looked at whether or not the women smoked.

The study found that the mortality rate among women who lived in the greenest spaces was 12 percent lower than those from the least green areas.

Peter James said he and his team were surprised to find such a strong link between high vegetation levels and low mortality rates. He adds they were also surprised to find how high levels of plant life can affect a woman’s mental health.

The study suggests that living among vegetation -- trees, flower and other plants -- lowered levels of depression. Researchers say women in greener areas spent more time with other people, exercised more and were less exposed to air pollution.

One of the biggest effects of greenery appeared to be a lowered risk of respiratory disease and cancer. Here are some numbers. The study found that women living in areas with the most greenery had a 34 percent lower rate of dying from a respiratory disease and a 13 percent lower rate of dying from cancer.

James says that it is common knowledge that vegetation helps the environment in many ways. But, he adds, the new findings suggest ways for city planners, landscape architects and policymakers to grow even healthier living areas.

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