A new study has found that green spaces such as a neighbourhood’s parks and public spaces have a positive impact on an important genetic marker associated with exposure to stress. However, researchers also found that the positive impact of green space is not enough to compensate for environmental challenges such as air pollution.
The genetic markers, telomeres, are sections of repetitive DNA found at each end of a chromosome that protect its end from damage. According to Science Daily, when a cell divides, the telomeres inside those cells become slightly shorter. When they become so short that the cell cannot divide successfully, the cell dies.
"This makes telomeres important markers of biological age, or how worn down our cells are," corresponding author Scott Ogletree, as per Science Daily. Variables such as stress can influence how rapidly telomeres wear down. The study, led by researchers from North Carolina State University, aims to quantify the health benefits of greenspace at the cellular level, and the extent to which greenspace can help to offset environmental harms, the researchers explained in the university’s press statement.
Using data from 7,827 people the researchers assessed the amount of green space in each person’s neighbourhood and how that was associated with their telomere length. The more greenspace people had in their neighbourhoods, the longer their telomeres were, the statement explained. Notably, the findings were true regardless of race, economic status, and whether they were drinkers or smokers. The study was published in the journal Science of the Total Environment.
However, when the researchers considered air pollution, segregation, or ‘deprivation’, the positive effect of the greenspace disappeared. “Green space is tremendously valuable for a community, but it is not enough to overcome systemic racism and the effects of economic segregation and environmental justice challenges on its own,” Aaron Hipp, co-author of the study said in the statement.
The study emphasizes that creating green space in a community is important, especially in combating environmental harm. Green spaces are also important for people’s mental well-being. A 2021 study, published in EPJ Data Science, found that people’s happiness was positively associated with the area of urban green space regardless of the country’s economic state.