February is American Heart Month! Did you know that access to green space can promote cardiovascular (CV) health? People who both live close to and use parks in their neighborhoods have lower rates of CV disease compared to non-users or individuals who live further away.
CV disease refers to heart attacks, strokes, heart failure, arrhythmia, and heart valve problems. In the United States, approximately 1 in 4 deaths are attributed to heart disease complications, making it the leading cause of death for men and women.
Green space can occur at a variety of scales, particularly in urban areas. Examples include parks, gardens, public squares, playgrounds, or other open spaces. Access to green space improves mental, physical, and community well-being, however, this is not distributed equitable across demographic groups,. Minority groups and low socioeconomic communities tend to have less green space availability than white, higher-income groups.
The positive correlation between CV health and green space may be due to a variety of factors. Green space decreases reported anxiety and depression in users, contributing to decreased morbidity. Use of green space also decreases stress levels; high rates of stress can lead to decreased CV health.
Additionally, forest walking, or forest bathing, has been showed to improve CV health,. This practice refers to an individual thoroughly immersing themselves in a natural space and taking it in with their senses. Forest bathing has also been showed to increase anti-cancer proteins in individuals.
Therefore, due to the inequitable green space distribution across demographic groups, these health impacts become a social justice issue. Increasing green space in underserved neighborhoods could positively impact health outcomes, resulting in improved quality of life indicators. This is particularly relevant in Los Angeles, where low-income and minority groups are disproportionately affected by lack of green space,  and toxic conditions, . Currently, the City of LA is working to achieve the goals laid out in its Sustainability pLAn and Mayor Eric Garcetti has outlined ways to address climate change and environmental inequities.
CURes is dedicated to green infrastructure research. Previous projects include tree mapping for the City of Colton, monitoring a rain garden in Culver City, and creating stewardship maps (STEW-MAP) to understanding environmental group distribution. Currently, CURes is conducting an urban tree survey in Pacoima, an underserved neighborhood in terms of green spaces located north of downtown LA; expanding STEW-MAP to include groups specifically working on the LA River; and working with Tree People to map tree canopy across LA.
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