In sunny South Florida, we may take for granted the green lawns and palm trees that make our communities so inviting.
But, now there’s research revealing an added benefit to living in neighborhoods with more tree canopy and street-level vegetation. Residents of “greener” blocks have a 28 percent lower risk for depression and an 18 percent decreased risk for Alzheimer’s disease. The greatest impact is seen in low-income communities, where residents may not have regular access to a car or other means of traveling to greener areas and environments.
With this in mind, doctors can now offer at-risk patients more specific recommendations based on their living environment. “Oftentimes in the doctor-patient encounter, there is a recommendation to exercise more. But it may also be important to know where the person lives,” said Dr. Scott Brown, a researcher with the University of Miami Health System. “Miami-Dade Parks offers outdoor programs at low cost or no cost for low-income populations, for example. So, there may be ways the physician can help the patient discover where it is they can engage in physical activity [in greener environments].”
These findings support previous research from Dr. Brown and his team that shows Medicare recipients living on greener blocks experience greater improvements in obesity-related conditions such as diabetes, hypertension, and hyperlipidemia. The UHealth researchers are also preparing to expand this work to investigate the impacts of greening interventions, such as tree planting, on the cardiovascular health of Miami-Dade County residents over the past seven years. These efforts could support the expansion of the local tree canopy.
More research is needed to see if these findings in South Florida can be applied to regions with more seasonal variation in foliage, Dr. Brown said.