This City Is Using Nature To Treat Asthma, Allergies & Heart Disease

Photo: Christian Tisdale

Last month, a report found that one in six deaths worldwide is related to pollution, with air pollution being the most common culprit. Potent pollutants like smog and particulate matter in the air can cause health conditions like asthma, allergies, and heart disease and exacerbate pre-existing conditions.

The American Lung Association is now recommending that people check air quality forecasts as religiously as weather reports, avoiding outdoor workouts and long walks if pollution levels are too high.

Over in Louisville, Kentucky, they're looking to take a more proactive approach.

Last week, a team out of the University of Louisville announced its plan to clear the air by planting thousands of trees across the city. The first-of-its kind, $14.5 million study will then closely monitor how the planting affects cardiovascular health.

The community of Louisville is overdue for air-quality reform. Coal-power companies, and chemical plants, and high average temperatures have turned it into one of the most polluted urban areas in the country. "The air in Louisville takes years off your life, regardless of your overall health status," Veronica Combs, director of a local environmental nonprofit, told The Nature Conservancy, a study partner.

Scientists are hopeful that placing more greenery alongside high-density areas and busy roads will help, since trees can cool the air with their canopy, as well as filter out particulate matter (PM) with their leaves. In order to expedite the process, fully grown varieties up to 30-feet tall will be transplanted instead of grown from seed. Researchers will then study the cardiovascular health of 700 residents—some close to the new greenery, some far—over the next few years.

Study organizer Aruni Bhatnagar, Ph.D., FAHA, has likened greenery to statins, a popular medication for lowering cholesterol. But, unlike prescription drugs, Mother Nature doesn't come with a laundry list of potential side effects. With science now supporting the idea that time outdoors promotes whole-body health, the future of this newfangled natural Rx is looking bright.

Over in Sweden, they're also harnessing the health benefits of nature with this incredible glass house experiment.

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