Living close to urban green spaces could lower your risk of breast cancer

Researchers in Spain have discovered that women living closer to urban green spaces like parks or gardens have a lower risk of breast cancer.

More and more studies are confirming the health benefits of closer contact with green spaces. These include better general and mental health, increased life expectancy, slower cognitive decline in the older population, and improvements in attention capacity, behaviour and emotional development in children.

Now, a new study from the Barcelona Institute for Global Health (ISGlobal) is reporting a link between proximity to green spaces and a lower risk of breast cancer, the most common malignant disease among women and the one that causes the most cancer deaths in the female population.

Published in the International Journal of Hygiene and Environmental Health, the study analysed data from more than 3,600 women in Spain. Information on proximity to urban green spaces, air pollution levels and population density, as well as data on lifetime residential history, socio-economic level, lifestyle factors and levels of physical activity for each of the participants were included in the analysis.

“We found a reduced risk of breast cancer among women living in closer [proximity] to urban green spaces,” said first author of the study, ISGlobal researcher Cristina O’Callaghan-Gordo. Women living closer to agricultural areas, in contrast, had a higher risk, suggestion that “the association between green space and a risk of breast cancer is dependent on the land use”.

What’s more, the researchers found a linear correlation between distance from green spaces and breast cancer risk.

“In other words, the risk of breast cancer in the population declines the closer their residence is to an urban green space,” added Mark Nieuwenhuijsen, study coordinator and director of ISGlobal’s Urban Planning, Environment and Health Initiative.

“These findings highlight the importance of natural spaces for our health and show why green spaces are an essential component of our urban environment, not just in the form of isolated areas but as a connective networking linking the whole urban area and benefitting all its inhabitants.”

While the researchers cannot yet pinpoint which characteristics of natural spaces are the most beneficial, they hypothesise that mechanisms such as lower stress levels among those living close to green spaces could play a role. In contrast, the association between a higher risk of breast cancer and residential proximity to agricultural land may be due to the use of pesticides.

Image credit: Catalin Sandru via Unsplash

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