Green space can decelerate cognitive decline by supporting physical activity, psychological restoration, or reducing exposure to air pollution. However, existing studies on the association of green space with cognitive decline are limited.
To examine whether residential green space was associated with cognitive function in middle-aged women.
Design, setting, and participants:
Starting in 1989, the Nurses’ Health Study II enrolled 116 429 female nurses aged 25 to 42 years residing in the US. In 2014 to 2016, 40 082 women were invited to complete an online cognitive battery. This cohort study analyzed women who had data on both green space exposure and cognitive measures. Data analysis was conducted from June to October 2021.
Residential exposure to green space was assessed using the Normalized Difference Vegetation Index, a satellite-derived indicator of the quantity of ground vegetation. Landsat satellite data at 270-m and 1230-m buffers around each participants’ residential addresses in 2013 were used.
Main outcomes and measures:
In 2014 to 2016, cognitive function was measured using a self-administered online battery, the Cogstate Brief Battery, consisting of 4 tasks measuring psychomotor speed, attention, learning, and working memory; 3 composite scores, averaging together all tasks, psychomotor speed/attention, and learning/working memory, were created. In addition, the study evaluated potential mediators, including air pollution, depression, and physical activity.
The analytical sample included 13 594 women, of whom 13 293 (98%) were White. Mean (SD) age was 61.2 (4.6) years. In models adjusted for age at assessment, race, childhood, adulthood, and neighborhood socioeconomic status, green space was associated with higher scores on the global Cogstate composite (mean difference per IQR in green space, 0.05; 95% CI, 0.02 to 0.07), and psychomotor speed/attention (mean difference in score, 0.05 standard units; 95% CI, 0.02 to 0.08). This difference in scores is similar to the difference observed in women 1 year apart in age in the data. By contrast, there was no association between green space and learning/working memory (mean difference, 0.0300; 95% CI, -0.0003 to 0.0500).
Conclusions and relevance:
These findings suggest that increasing residential green space may be associated with modest benefits in cognition in middle-aged women.