Time spent in nature seems to slow down Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s

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By Alan Mozes

Health Day Reporter

TUESDAY, December 27, 2022 (HealthDay News) — Living in an area with easy access to parks and rivers appears to be slowing the progression of devastating neurological diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.

That’s according to a new study based on more than a decade and a half of tracking disease risk among nearly 62 million Americans age 65 and older.

“Previous research has shown that natural settings — such as forests, parks, and rivers — can help reduce stress and restore alertness,” noted lead author Jochem Klompmaker, a postdoctoral researcher at Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health in Boston. “In addition, natural environments provide frameworks for physical activity and social interactions, and can reduce exposure to air pollution, extreme heat and traffic noise.”

To build on such observations, he and his colleagues studied hospital admissions for Alzheimer’s and related dementia and Parkinson’s disease.

By focusing on the hospitalization, Klompmaker emphasized that his team was there Not Assess the initial risk of developing either disease. Instead, the researchers wanted to know if increased exposure to nature reduces the likelihood that either disease will progress rapidly.

And on that front, Klompmaker said, the researchers observed significant protective connections: The greener an older person’s environment, the lower their risk of being hospitalized for a neurological condition.

The finding could affect millions of Americans, since Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s are among the most common neurological disorders in the United States.

To examine nature’s potential conservation benefits, researchers focused on seniors living in the US mainland between 2000 and 2016.

About 55% were women and about 84% were white. All were aged 65 to 74 when included in the study pool.

Over the 16 years of the study, nearly 7.7 million were hospitalized for Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia, and nearly 1.2 million were hospitalized for Parkinson’s.

Throughout, the researchers compared each patient’s zip code to several types of geologic survey data, which together accounted for the overall greenness of a region. This data included the amount of vegetation present as well as the percentage of land devoted to parks and waterways.

In the end, green number crunching produced mixed results.

On one hand, the team found no evidence that patients living in areas with more parks and waterways had a lower risk of being hospitalized with Alzheimer’s.

However, the risk of hospitalization was lower among those who lived in areas with more overall vegetation.

The results were even more positive in relation to the movement disorder Parkinson’s: for all measures examined, living in a greener environment meant a lower risk of hospitalization.

For example, for every 16% increase in park coverage, the risk of being hospitalized for Parkinson’s decreased by 3%. And if you lived in a ZIP code where 1% or more of the area surveyed was water, your risk of Parkinson’s hospitalization decreased by 3% compared to those in ZIP codes with fewer bodies of water.

Asked why a greener environment might reduce such neurological risk, Klompmaker said the study didn’t look for a specific reason for these associations.

“Living in or near green and blue spaces can have many positive health effects,” he added, including reduced pollution, stress and noise.

Pablo Navarrete-Hernandez is a Lecturer in Landscape Architecture at the University of Sheffield in England, who reviewed the results.

His own work has shown that people whose homes are filled with lots of natural light tend to be happier. He supported the notion that the health benefits of nature should not be underestimated.

“Research shows that green spaces trigger people’s positive emotions like happiness and reduce negative emotions like anger, all of which are related to lower stress levels,” Navarrete-Hernandez said. “Laboratory experiments also show that being in nature after stressful events helps reduce the body’s stress responses,” including levels of the stress hormone cortisol.

That, he said, could have a direct impact on the development of Alzheimer’s. Previous studies have shown that high levels of cortisol reduce the volume of the hippocampus, an area of ​​the brain crucial for controlling the body’s stress response and performing essential memory functions.

On the Parkinson’s front, Navarrete-Hernandez found that people who live in greener spaces tend to be more physically active. This could be important in disease progression, he said, as physical activity has been shown to play a role in long-term maintenance of motor function.

The results were published on December 20th JAMA network open.

More information

Learn more about the broader connection between nature and improved health at the University of Minnesota.

SOURCES: Jochem Klompmaker, PhD, Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Department of Environmental Health, Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health, Boston; Pablo Navarrete-Hernandez, PhD, Lecturer, Department of Landscape Architecture, University of Sheffield, UK; JAMA network open, December 20, 2022


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Time spent in nature seems to slow down Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s
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