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Green space linked to better cognitive health

Living in greener neighbourhoods might help slow cognitive decline associated with ageing, researchers have suggested.

Published in Environmental Health Perspectives, the Barcelona Institute for Global Health (ISGlobal) study found that loss in cognitive functions among older cohorts was slightly slower among those who lived in greener neighbourhoods.

The team looked at 6,500 people aged 45 to 68 from the Whitehall II study in the UK. It performed cognitive tests with participants and assessed their verbal and mathematical reasoning, verbal fluency and short-term memory at three different timepoints over the course of 10 years.

Lead author Carmen de Keijzer said there is evidence that the risk of dementia and cognitive decline might be affected by exposure to urban-related environmental hazards, like air pollution and noise, as well as lifestyle factors 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,” de Keijzer said. “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.”

At the 10-year mark, the decline in cognitive score was 4.6 per cent 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,” de Keijzer added.

Co-author Payam Dadvand said that although the differences in cognitive decline observed in the study are modest at the individual level, they become much more significant if considered at population level.

“If confirmed by future studies, our results may provide an evidence base for implementing targeted interventions aimed at decelerating cognitive decline in older adults residing in urban areas and hence improving their quality of life,” Dadvand said.

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