Urban Green Spaces are Good for the Heart

city_heartThe noise, the traffic, the constant hustle and bustle—if you’ve ever lived in a big city, you know how stressful it can be. In fact, studies have shown that city dwellers are typically more stressed out than their rural counterparts, causing physical changes in the brain that can lead to significant mental health damage as well as heart problems over time. On a positive note, Penn State University researchers believe providing “green spaces” may be part of the solution.

A green space is created when an area of undeveloped urban land (such as an empty lot) is cleared and beautified with trees, shrubs, flowers, and other greenery to provide a communal space for people to enjoy. In addition to the environmental benefits—including improved air and water quality, cooler temperatures, and reduced soil erosion—scientists are finding several human health benefits associated with green spaces, particularly when it comes to heart health.

The Penn State scientists recently conducted a study in which a group of people (wearing heart rate monitors equipped with GPS trackers) were asked to walk through their neighborhood before and after it had been renovated to include urban green spaces, and they found that simply strolling through the beautified areas had a positive impact on overall heart rate. Specifically, researchers saw a net heartbeat drop of approximately 15 beats per minute (bpm).

Why the change of heart, so to speak? Possibly because the restored areas made residents feel safer, but more likely because the green spaces had an overall calming effect—an effect seen in previous studies that have linked spending time in nature with reduced stress and improved mood. According to senior author Dr. Charles Branas in a recent press release, “This research on greening urban lots provides an important scientific impetus for urban planners and city officials to take relatively low-cost steps toward improving health for their residents.”

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Are Toxins Lurking in Your “Green” Cleaning Products?

spraybottleFrom your kitchen cleaner to your bathroom air fresheners, you probably think going green means making a healthier choice for you and your family, but a new study from the University of Melbourne in Australia reveals the truth about natural household cleaners and other products: that they give off just as many hazardous air pollutants as the regular ones.

A team of researchers looked at nearly 40 different products ranging from laundry supplies to personal care products—many of which were labeled ‘non-toxic’ and ‘organic’—and discovered that all of them are potentially harmful to human health because of the volatile organic compounds (or VOCs) they release into the air, regardless of whether or not they were fragranced.

In all, they determined that more than 500 volatile ingredients (and over 150 VOCs, including hazardous terpenes) were released by the products in the study, and over 40 of those ingredients are currently classified as toxic or hazardous in the United States. However, fewer than 3% percent of were actually listed on the label, say study authors.

A big concern, according to lead author Anne Steinemann, is that indoor air exposure is such a significant source of pollutants, but most people are unaware of the dangers in their household environments. Not only that, but consumers often choose green or natural products because they think they’re safer, when really “…those claims are largely untested.” Steinemann is among the foremost experts on environmental pollutants and their effects on air quality and human health.

Click here for quick and easy recipes to make your own household cleaners and personal care products!

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