Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, cities across the United States have experienced a shuffle in their populations.
People are packing up their apartments in crowded cities to move to the suburbs and country.
Reasons for this vary: a push to more remote work, desire to move away from crowded and expensive areas, less exposure to pollution, better recreational activities, etc.
Altogether, these moves away from urban areas can often be considered as attempts to improve physical and mental health.
But how accurate is that?
Does living in a city truly affect a person’s well-being so much so that they would consider leaving for a suburb or even the countryside?
There are many pros and cons of living in a crowded urban area like New York City, Chicago, San Francisco, or Miami.
On one hand, living in a big city provides access to cultural events, a variety of food options, modern infrastructure, a bustling social life, and more job opportunities.
On the other hand, living in a big city comes with many downsides that have convinced some that moving away and settling down in the suburbs or country will be better for them in the long run.
From high costs of living and crime rates, to pollution and a drain on mental health, increased risks of personal injuries from incidents like auto accidents, reasons to leave the city are varied and understandable.
There are both advantages and disadvantages to living in a big city.
You should consider both before making a decision to relocate.
More expansive infrastructure – such as pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure, better hospitals, access to public transportation that decreases the need to drive a car (in turn decreasing auto accidents), and a plentiful supply of food options are all upsides to improving physical health in the city.
While these factors don’t correlate entirely to an overall positive physical health impact, some say it may be easier to lead a healthier life in a city because of these options.
City dwellers can experience a host of physical health effects that those in the suburbs or country aren’t exposed to.
Living in a city has been found to increase the risk of cardiovascular and respiratory diseases.
With worse air quality and higher rates of air pollution, living in a city increases the risk of stroke, heart disease, lung cancer, and chronic and acute respiratory diseases, including asthma.
Research also suggests, surprisingly, that air pollution can contribute to obesity.
Cost of living in a major metropolitan is comparatively much higher than surrounding rural areas, in general.
This can lead to higher expenses for maintaining physical health while living in the city.
Living in a large metropolitan area can put a strain on your mental health.
However, some individuals might find it advantageous to their mental health to live in the city rather than the country.
Living in a big city surrounds a person with a multitude of opportunities to improve mental health.
Mental health services are usually more comprehensive and higher-quality than those offered in rural and suburban areas.
Exposure to different cultures, events, food, and people can also help a person’s mental health.
Reflecting these ideas are statistics showing that suicide rates are lower in cities than they are in the country: with increased social connections and less isolation, people may be less inclined to take their own lives.
Cities often offer extensive activities, both indoor and outdoor, when compared to rural areas.
These stimulating social activities can greatly impact a person’s mental health.
The downsides of living in a city from a mental health perspective are as numerous as the potential upsides.
While mental health services are more widespread and generally better in cities, there’s a reason for the demand.
The risk of developing depression is up to 20% higher in cities than in the country.
The risk of developing generalized anxiety disorder is also up to 21% higher in cities.
Reduced access to green and recreation areas, higher costs of living, and noise and air pollution can all contribute to a decreased standard in mental health in some individuals.
While these pros and cons paint a black and white picture of city life, it’s important to consider individual factors that can contribute to mental health.
Social inequities and economic inequality persist heavily in urban areas, contributing to varied mental health standards between subsects of populations.
Living in a rural area, just like city living, comes with many upsides and downsides.
An abundance of green space, less pollution (air, noise & light), and cheaper living costs make a home in the country an attractive prospect to get away from a bustling city.
Increased transportation costs, limited dining options, poorer health facilities and services, and less job opportunities may have people second guessing their move out of the city limits.
While there are many perceived benefits to life in the country, there are a number of potential adverse health risks that rural residents may be at risk of.
Living in the country can improve physical health.
The further you get from major urban areas, the better the air quality gets.
It is even speculated that phytochemicals in plants and algae improve the air quality further and also aid in cell improvement, reducing likelihood of respiratory diseases and asthma.
Recreation activities are also generally more accessible in rural areas.
It’s also typically easier to grow your own food and eat local organically grown fruits and vegetables in rural areas.
What often isn’t mentioned when idealizing a country lifestyle are the potential, dangerous risks of living in rural communities.
One prominent, yet overlooked, risk of rural living is chemical exposure to pesticides and herbicides, which can lead to some debilitating health effects.
A common misconception is that “country air is cleaner”, but many agricultural product chemical exposure litigations prove that this is not alway necessarily true.
Many of these agricultural products have resulted in rural communities plagued with serious injury & even wrongful death.
Consider the impacts of both your physical and mental health in the country.
The impacts will be unique to each individual’s personality and preferences.
Lower cost of living, access to nature, and peace and quiet are all reasons people may have better mental health in rural areas.
A sense of individualism and responsibility in the countryside can improve mental health, and being able to see the stars at night doesn’t hurt either.
While peace and quiet can help with mental health, there can also be a sense of isolation and loneliness when living in the country.
Coupled with lacking mental health services, less job opportunities, and less access to social and cultural interactions, solitude in the country can have an impact on one’s mental health.
Increased distances between people, commerce, and services also lead to a life where a person has to drive miles per day instead of commuting on public transportation or even walking to a destination.
Rural areas may also face limitations on necessary services which could affect residents.
For example childcare deserts are more prominent in rural areas.
Without proper child care, parents may be limited to the degree in which they can participate in the professional world.
Whether living in a crowded city or on a remote patch of land in the countryside, your health can be impacted by a variety of factors outside of your control.
Consider the following information to learn what you can do to help physical and mental well being and prevent worst case scenarios when deciding where to live.
Research the area you live in or plan to live in, keeping an eye out for environmental or man-made hazards like those mentioned above.
Home inspections and testing for dangerous chemicals or building methods are worth the cost for you and your family whether it’s your current residence or a home you’re looking to move into.
Reading up on local laws regarding pollution and chemical regulations, building methods and materials, and anything else that could influence your way of life is important before making a move.
If you have concerns with a potential move to a new rural community or you are considering relocating to the city, it is best to talk to a financial advisor & seek legal consultation to decide if the move is the right decision for you and your family.
“EPA Takes Action to Address Risk from Chlorpyrifos and Protect Children’s Health.” Environmental Protection Agency, 18 Aug. 2021, https://www.epa.gov/newsreleases/epa-takes-action-address-risk-chlorpyrifos-and-protect-childrens-health#:~:text=WASHINGTON%20%2D%20The%20U.S.%20Environmental%20Protection,that%20of%20children%20and%20farmworkers.
Galea, Sandro, and David Vlahov. “Urban Health: Evidence, Challenges, and Directions.” Center for Urban Epidemiologic Studies, 21 Apr. 2005, https://www.annualreviews.org/doi/full/10.1146/annurev.publhealth.26.021304.144708?url_ver=Z39.88-2003&rfr_id=ori%3Arid%3Acrossref.org&rfr_dat=cr_pub%3Dpubmed.
Peen, J., et al. “The Current Status of Urban‐Rural Differences in Psychiatric Disorders.” Wiley Online Library, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd, 13 July 2009, https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/j.1600-0447.2009.01438.x.
Robson, David. “The Air That Makes You Fat.” BBC, 8 Dec. 2015, https://www.bbc.com/future/article/20151207-the-air-that-makes-you-fat.
Rosen, Meghan. “Suicide Rates Drop in Big Cities.” Science News, 8 Aug. 2019, https://www.sciencenews.org/article/suicide-rates-drop-big-cities.
Strosnider, Heather, et al. “Rural and Urban Differences in Air Quality, 2008–2012, and Community Drinking Water Quality, 2010–2015.” – United States. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 22 June 2017, https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/66/ss/ss6613a1.htm.
Sundquist, Kristina, et al. “Urbanisation and Incidence of Psychosis and Depression.” Cambridge University Press, The British Journal of Psychiatry, 2 Jan. 2018, https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/the-british-journal-of-psychiatry/article/urbanisation-and-incidence-of-psychosis-and-depression/AF3FDF51E9DA192097BEF153D9A02148.
Thompson, Helen. “Is Country Air Really Better than City Air?” Smithsonian Institution, 2 July 2015, https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/why-country-air-better-city-air-180955803/.
“UN Health Agency Warns of Rise in Urban Air Pollution.” – United Nations Sustainable Development. United Nations, 12 May 2016, https://www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/blog/2016/05/un-health-agency-warns-of-rise-in-urban-air-pollution-with-poorest-cities-most-at-risk/#:~:text=%E2%80%9CAir%20pollution%20is%20a%20major%20cause%20of%20disease%20and%20death.&text=As%20urban%20air%20quality%20declines,live%20in%20them%2C%20WHO%20stressed.
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