While consumers certainly have their preference when it comes to living in busier cities or more rural towns, recent studies have found that the decision could actually have greater implications than many realize.
Researchers from the University of British Columbia found that living closer to major roadways was associated with an increased risk of several serious neurological conditions, such as Parkinson’s and dementia. According to the researchers, air pollution is to blame in these cases.
“For the first time, we have confirmed a link between air pollution and traffic proximity with a higher risk of dementia, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, and MS at the population level,” said researcher Weiran Yuchi. “The good news is that green spaces appear to have some protective effects in reducing the risk of developing one or more of these disorders. More research is needed, but our findings do suggest that urban planning efforts to increase accessibility to green spaces and to reduce motor vehicle traffic would be beneficial for neurological health.”
To understand how living closer to busier roads and having greater exposure to air pollution can affect consumers’ health, the researchers looked at data from nearly 700,000 adults living in the city of Vancouver.
They evaluated the participants’ home addresses to determine their exposure to air pollution, how close they were to green spaces, and how much noise they’re typically exposed to.
Ultimately, the researchers couldn’t find a direct correlation between air pollution affecting Alzheimer’s or multiple sclerosis (MS); however, they did notice that cases of dementia and Parkinson’s increased over time and were in direct connection to where the participants lived.
While the initial analysis occurred between 1994 and 1998, the researchers followed up with the participants over the next four years. In that time, there were over 13,000 new cases of dementia and over 4,200 new cases of Parkinson’s.
The researchers explained that consumers didn’t necessarily need to live on a major street, but being in close enough proximity, which they found was anywhere between 50 and 150 meters from a highway, was associated with an increased risk of these conditions.
The power of green spaces
The researchers found that the risk for any neurological disorder decreased when there were green spaces nearby, further emphasizing the importance of such areas, especially in busy cities.
“For people who are exposed to a higher level of green space, they are more likely to be physically active and may also have more social interactions,” said researcher Michael Brauer. “There may even be benefits from just the visual aspects of vegetation.”