12/08/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Urban Parks Help Defeat Inequality

It always amazes me to see how families in Istanbul will take any opportunity to enjoy a scrap of nature, no matter how patchy or trash-strewn the grass, or how close it is to a busy road. Many are undoubtedly some of the 43,000 new residents drawn to the city each month, often from rural areas and perhaps yearning for a small semblance of home. But green space can provide more than solace--according to a new report by the British medical journal The Lancet, it has quantifiable benefits that can help close the "health gap" between rich and poor. And you don't need to go all the way back to nature to reap the rewards.

The authors of the November 8 article, "Effect of exposure to natural environment on health inequalities: an observational population study," looked at mortality data in England and found that the disparity in health between rich and poor was double in the parts of the country with the least green space, compared to those with the most. The largest effect was seen in deaths from circulatory diseases, in part because of the opportunity--and incentive--that green spaces provide to exercise. However, they wrote, "the effect of green space is not solely based on promotion or enhancement of physical activity. Several studies have shown that contact (either by presence or visual) with green spaces can by psychologically and physiologically restorative, reducing blood pressure and stress levels and possibly promoting faster healing in patients after surgical intervention."

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