City skyline

Higher Floor, Higher Heart Risks

People on third floor or higher have lower survival rates


The United Nations reports that 54% of the world’s population is concentrated in urban areas, and that number is only expected to increase.  It makes sense.  Living in the city is convenient: everything is close by, you can walk to your favourite restaurant, you can take the subway to work.  And since there is limited area within urban centres, we tend to build upwards.  In 2012, over 25% of Toronto homes and 15% of Vancouver homes were in high-rise buildings. But your downtown condo in the concrete jungle could be affecting your health in more ways than you imagine.

A recent study from St. Michael’s Hospital analyzed almost 8000 cases of cardiac arrest in Southern Ontario and found that patients who lived on the third floor or higher had lower survival rates.  This doesn’t mean that living on a higher floor causes lower survival rates, it simply shows a correlation in the data.

The discrepancy is likely due to paramedic response times, almost two minutes longer for higher floors, though other factors could also be involved.  Some of this delay could be easily reduced, the authors discuss, like by giving paramedics a master elevator key when they enter the building or improving accessibility of automated external defibrillators.

But how about avoiding that heart attack altogether?  Well, that might depend on how many trees you see out your window.

Another study published in Scientific Reports last year found that Toronto residents who live in neighbourhoods with a higher density of trees along the streets have significantly less cardio-metabolic conditions.  This was true even after controlling for factors like income, age, and education.

Clearly, city planning affects much more than traffic patterns.  Patricia McCarney, Director of the Global Cities Institute at the University of Toronto, understands that our cities need to be structured to improve citizen’s lives, and this won’t come from individual studies.  Prof. McCarney is working towards developing international standards for data reporting from cities.  This will allow different cities to directly compare key statistics and potentially learn from one another.

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Malgosia Pakulska is a freelance science writer, speaker, and blogger. She completed her PhD in Professor Molly Shoichet’s lab studying drug delivery systems for spinal cord regeneration after injury. She is still passionate about research and wants to share that excitement with the public. When she is not in the lab, she is experimenting in the kitchen and blogging about it at Smart Cookie Bakes.