Living in a natural environment may help you live longer, a new study found. Findings suggest that living in areas with more vegetation can lower mortality rates.

In a new 8-year study, researchers from Brigham and Women's Hospital (BWH) and Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health discovered that the mortality rate of women who lived in greenest areas was overall 12 percent lower compared to women who lived in less green areas.

In particular, the mortality rate from respiratory diseases was 34 percent lower. The death rate from cancer was 13 percent lower.

The researchers also estimated that 30 percent of the total benefits of living near green spaces stemmed from lower depression levels that improved mental health.

The study authors added that other factors affecting mortality and mental health could be at play. These include increased levels of physical activity, higher chances for social engagement and lower rates of air pollution.

Research associate Peter James from Harvard Chan School's Department of Epidemiology said they were surprised to discover a strong connection between lower mortality rates and exposure to more vegetation.

"We were even more surprised to find evidence that a large proportion of the apparent benefit from high levels of vegetation seems to be connected with improved mental health," said James.

The findings can help city planners, policy makers and landscape architects in developing greener spaces that can have long-term health benefits.

"We know that planting vegetation can help the environment by reducing wastewater loads, sequestering carbon, and mitigating the effects of climate change," added James.

In the study published on April 14 in the Environmental Health Perspectives journal, the research team analyzed the data of over 108,000 women who took part in the nationwide Nurses' Health Study between 2000 and 2008.

Using satellite images of the surrounding vegetation in the participants' homes in the different years and in various seasons, the research team calculated the estimated mortality in the span of eight years. They also factored in several factors such as smoking behaviors, age, race and socioeconomic status.

The recent study was co-funded by the National Institutes of Health and the Harvard NHLBI Cardiovascular Epidemiology Training.

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