Health And Wellness Society and Culture Research

Natural environment linked with quality of life for people with COPD

Living in high-pollution areas or farther than 500 metres from green space or water is associated with lower quality of life related to health, study shows.

  • December 13, 2021
  • By Ross Neitz

People with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease who live farther than 500 metres from water or a green space report lower quality of life related to their health, according to a new study.

High levels of air pollution are also associated with worse health-related quality of life in people with COPD, the researchers said.

In the study, researchers from the University of Alberta and the Barcelona Institute for Global Health (ISGlobal) evaluated, for the first time, the association between environmental factors and disease effects in more than 400 patients living in Barcelona, Spain, and its nearby provinces. Researchers looked at the exposure of patients to air pollutants, traffic noise, land-surface temperatures and how far patients lived from green or blue spaces such as parks or rivers.

“If you spend time in any blue or green space — like in the forest, a park or near to the ocean or to a river — it gives immense benefit to mental health,” said Subhabrata Moitra, first author on the study and a post-doctoral fellow in the U of A’s Division of Pulmonary Medicine.

“And if you have access to those places, then you’re more likely to achieve better physical activity by walking or jogging, and this also helps in improving one’s physical and mental health.”

Land-surface temperatures and noise pollution were not found to have an impact, although the researchers say there were factors that need to be further explored. The authors also acknowledge that the findings show association rather than causality, and that further studies are needed to better understand the effect of each pollutant.

COPD causes obstructed airflow from the lungs and makes it hard to breathe. It is expected to be the second most predominant illness in the world by 2030. More than two million Canadians aged 35 and older —10 per cent of the population in that age range — were living with diagnosed COPD in 2012-2013, according to the Public Health Agency of Canada.

Moitra said the findings underscore the importance of urban planning for cities to account for clean air and increased access to blue and green spaces. 

“A large part of the population is living with COPD. If we are able to provide a clean and green environment to those patients, that will help in improving their quality of life.”

The study was published in the journal Environmental Research.