Many of us have a series of daily rituals we do to maintain our health. We eat fruits and vegetables, exercise, and take vitamins to avoid life-altering emergencies, such as strokes. Most people assume they’ll never have to experience one, and they would probably be correct. More than 70% of Americans will go an entire lifetime without having to suffer through a stroke. What if we could make a lifestyle change outside of exercise to improve our odds even more — would you do it?
A recent study by the Hospital del Mar Medical Research Institute, in collaboration with the Catalan Health Quality and Assessment Agency of Catalonia, Spain, is forcing us to ask ourselves that question. Researchers from the organizations sought to build upon several existing studies regarding the link between air pollution levels and the risk of ischaemic stroke, which occurs through a blockage that reduces blood flow and oxygen to the brain.
Past evidence suggests that areas of high air pollution, such as urban centers and industrial towns, can increase that risk through elevated levels of airborne nitrogen dioxide. While the impact is far from immediate, the information remains relevant for those who live in these areas for an extended period.
This new study looks to analyze the effect of cleaner, fresher areas on stroke risk. Common sense would suggest that these spaces are inherently healthier because they lack these active pollutants. Spanish researchers wanted to determine whether areas with increased greenery — public parks, backyards, and woods — can have the opposite effect of actively lowering the risk of stroke, even when compared to “neutral” spaces.
What they found was eye-opening.
After analyzing the data of more than 3.5 million Catalonia residents, researchers concluded that those who lived within 300 meters (328 yards) of green spaces had a 16% lower risk of developing an ischaemic stroke.
These spaces were associated with significantly lower levels of nitrogen dioxide particulate, leaving residents with clean, breathable air. Additionally, the study found those living near green spaces have a cleaner diet and better exercise habits, reducing stroke risk.
“This study demonstrates the real impact that environmental aspects have on the health of the Catalan population,” says Dr. Jaume Roquer, head of the Neurology Service at Hospital del Mar. Roquer argues that the study lays the foundation for a more proactive government effort to introduce green spaces with greater frequency. “We must strive to achieve more sustainable towns and cities where living does not mean an increased risk of disease.”