The 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.”