Time spent in nature may reduce hospitalization risk for neurodegenerative diseases

December 21, 2022 – Living near green spaces, parks, or bodies of water may help protect older adults from first-time hospitalizations for neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, according to a large new study led by Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

“We can’t cure these diseases, so it’s important to identify modifiable risk factors so that people don’t get sick,” said lead author Jochem Klompmaker, a research fellow in the Department of Environmental Health, in a December 20 WBUR article. “Increasing physical activity, lowering stress and air pollution levels can be good for your health.”

The researchers looked at 16 years’ worth of data from nearly 62 million Medicare recipients, their zip codes, and information from databases that map the location of natural environments such as parks, waterways, or vegetation such as trees, crops, or grass. The study found that, for Alzheimer’s, living in zip codes with slightly more than an average amount of vegetation was linked with lower rates of first-time hospitalizations. For Parkinson’s, living near any type of nature was linked with avoiding a first hospital stay.

Klompmaker told WBUR that the link between nature and lower hospitalization risk for neurodegenerative diseases may be due to less air pollution. Trees and other plants can help reduce such pollution. The study findings suggest that policymakers and urban planners should “create healthier environments so that people can live a healthier life,” Klompmaker said.

Other Harvard Chan School co-authors of the study, published in JAMA Network Open, included Francine Laden, Francesca Dominici, Antonella Zanobetti, Jaime Hart, and Peter James.

Read the WBUR article: Nature may protect against Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, study finds

Read the study: Associations of Greenness, Parks, and Blue Space With Neurodegenerative Disease Hospitalizations Among Older US Adults

Learn more

The health benefits of trees (Harvard Chan School news)