How The Shape Of Your Local Park May Affect Your Mortality
More and more wellness research is pointing to green space for its health benefits. From preventing premature death to helping us heal, there's no doubt we could all use a little more greenery in our lives.
But new research from Texas A&M University has discovered a lesser-studied aspect of green space that has effects on mortality: the shape of the park.
Namely, parks that are oddly shaped actually resulted in a greater reduction in mortality risk for the residents who live nearby.
The weirder, the better.
Huaquing Wang, a Ph.D. urban and regional sciences student at Texas A&M, and Lou Tassinary, Ph.D., J.D., professor of visualization, conducted the study.
The two looked at the city of Philadelphia, analyzing what they refer to as "landscape spatial metrics" in connection with the health outcomes of Philly residents, and what they found suggests our parks ought to get a little weirder—in shape, that is.
Philly residents who were closer to "connected, aggregated, and complex-shaped" green spaces were found to have a lower risk of mortality than those who lived near plain, square-shaped spaces.
"Nearly all studies investigating the effects of natural environments on human health are focused on the amount of a community's green space," the study notes. "We found that the shape or form of green space has an important role in this association."
And as far as why, Wang and Tassinary note, "The complexity of the park shape was positively associated with a lower risk of mortality. This association might be attributable to the increased number of access points provided by complex-shaped green spaces."
What's next for the findings.
As urbanization continues and more of the planet’s natural green space is wiped out, this research offers city planners something to consider when it comes to mapping parks and other green space.
Wang and Tassinary say, "Our results suggest that linking existing parks with greenways or adding new, connected parks might be fiscally accessible strategies for promoting health.”
We already know that living near a park helps reduce the risk of chronic disease. A uniquely-shaped park may just take it one step further, by offering a layout with more accessible entrances for residents.
"The data supports the idea that the more complex the park shape, the better," Wang says.
Now, if your neighborhood park is just an average four-corner chunk of land, don't worry. It certainly won't hurt, and there are lots of other things you can do to boost your longevity, from what you eat to how you exercise.
But if you are one of the lucky ones with a funky park nearby, you'd do well to take a nice long stroll.
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