We’ve always had a hunch that country living was healthier than urban life, but now it’s official. A study of 100,000 women, which started in 2016, has concluded that those of us who live in areas with higher levels of vegetation had lower mortality rates. Specifically, women who had homes in areas with the highest levels of greenness in their immediate 250m surrounding neighbourhood had a 12% lower rate of death compared with those living in concrete jungles – including a 13% lower rate for cancer death, a 35% lower rate for respiratory disease mortality and a 41% lower rate for kidney disease mortality.
But why? Researchers found that living in nature resulted in lower levels of depression, increased social engagement, higher levels of physical activity and lower levels of pollution. Perhaps people living in the country are more likely to go outside – this would result in higher levels of vitamin D due to exposure to sunlight, which effects both mental and physical well being.
You’re more likely to be physically active if you live in beautiful surroundings – whether it’s riding, jogging or walking a dog. And if you’re doing that, you’re also more likely to come into contact with others doing the same, which is great for well-being. In fact, simply just being outside, close to nature, has been proven for some time to increase positive feelings.
Living among trees and plants also means less pollution – the vegetation can reduce levels of nitrogen dioxide – plants help to clean the air. So those living away from main roads and major junctions are breathing better air every day of their lives.
So what does that mean for those of us who aren’t lucky enough to live in a rural idyl? Are we destined for shorter lives or is there anything we can do about it?
The advice from those involved in the study is to get active – plant trees, plants or shrubs and get involved with local campaigns to increase the greenery in your neighbourhood. Get out and about – visit friends who live outside of the city and consciously seek out green areas and parks as often as you can.
Holidays too can be a great time to immerse yourself in nature – visiting the countryside for weekend breaks and longer vacations is a really great idea. But you can also seek to make sure the benefits of a country life are yours even if you live in the middle of the city – it might be harder, but it’s certainly possible.
There are steps you can take to reduce the pollution in your city-dwelling life. Walking on the pavement next to the wall, rather than on the kerb, can reduce pollution by a third, and taking side streets rather than main roads can reduce your inhalation of fumes by half. If you’re driving yourself and stuck in heavy traffic, make sure your air vents in the car are closed.
You can also make sure that you do get out and active as often as your countryside counterparts. Sign up to jogging clubs, getting a dog who needs walking, or arranging to go for a speedy stroll with a friend a few times a week are all great ways to make sure you get out and about. And of course not only does that help your physical health, exercise and social interaction are great for your mental health too.
So while it might take a little more planning, there’s no doubt city dwellers can make their lives just as healthy as the country set – and who doesn’t want an excuse for a few more holidays anyway?!