Green Areas in Urban Communities Can Reduce StressHow can people in cities reduce stress? A new study from the University of Pennsylvania’s (Penn) Perelman School of Medicine finds that people who walk near newly ‘greened’ community areas have lower heart rates. The study examines the connection between urban environments and stress, concluding that greened areas in cities can help reduce stress. It is the first study to monitor a physiological stress marker of residents in their own communities.

Participants from two randomly selected Philadelphia neighborhoods were asked to follow a prescribed walking route up to 2,000 feet long around their neighborhood. In one neighborhood, vacant lots were randomly greened by the Pennsylvania Horticulture Society. Greening a lot includes removing debris, planting trees and grass, and installing a low fence. The other neighborhood received no greening treatments and served as a control. The participants wore heart rate monitors with GPS trackers as they walked, allowing the researchers to monitor their stress levels and location.

The participants who walked through a greened neighborhood had a heart rate five beats per minute (bpm) lower when they were near greened lots compared to when they were near non-greened lots. The control group exhibited only a minimal heart rate change from being near non-greened vacant lots. Upon further analysis, the researchers attributed a total heart rate reduction of 15 bpm to viewing greened lots.

The findings support the hypothesis that proximity to greened lots can result in lowered heart rates. Because heart rate is considered a physiological marker of stress, a reduced heart rate near green spaces indicates that the areas reduced the stress of neighborhood residents.

Senior study author Charles C. Branas, Ph.D., professor of Epidemiology and director of the Urban Health Lab at Penn explains that “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.”

This research is published in the American Journal of Public Health.

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