When it comes to city vs. country, rural dwellers often argue that their air is cleaner and their lives are healthier. Quick on the rebuttal, urbanites often remind their rural and suburban friends that they walk more, bike more and generally live more active lifestyles out of necessity.
So what’s really the healthiest place to live: A big city, a small rural town, or something in between (an American suburb)? Here’s what experts say on the subject, and what factors come into play.
One of the first factors people often consider when thinking about health in big cities is the potential for poor air quality. In fact, this is indeed a major concern. While some cities are better than others, most urban areas are full of car emissions, air pollution, secondhand smoke and other icky pollutants.
A 2017 study found, unsurprisingly, that air quality improves the farther away one gets from a big city. And a lot of factors play into urban air quality; perhaps surprisingly, according to a ranking by the American Lung Association, the American cities with the worst air quality weren’t dense urban cores like New York and Chicago, but Fairbanks, AK, Bakersfield, CA, Long Beach, CA and Hanford, CT.
That said, even if you live in a big city, it’s possible to ease the pressure on your lungs pretty easily. By living in an urban neighborhood with plenty of trees, parks and green space, you can greatly reduce your exposure to air pollution. Trees really are magical!
There is one area of health in which cities are the clear winner: Activity levels. People living in cities are generally more active in general, as most errands and daily trips can be accomplished by walking or by taking public transport, an experience which also requires a lot of physical activity. A recent study found that areas with increased intersection density — that is, a walkable layout with a traditional street grid — has lower levels of obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease.
RISK OF ACCIDENTS
Finally, the risk of dying from an accident cannot be discounted in the battle between city versus country. Many country folk express distaste for issues such as crime, which can definitely be a component of city life. However, being injured as a result of violent crime is much less of a concern than dying in an automobile accident, which is a risk that suburban and rural dwellers take on a daily basis.
“Whether you live in rural areas or the city, you’re much less likely to die from a gunshot wound — either from someone else or self-inflicted — than you are in a simple accident,” reports Time. “Especially car crashes, which make up the bulk of unintentional injury deaths — motor-vehicle-injury-related deaths occurred at a rate that is more than 1.4 times higher than the next leading cause of death.”
THE BOTTOM LINE
Everyone should live in the area in which they feel most comfortable. The impact of stress on health shouldn’t be discounted either — if living in one type of community stresses you out, it’s probably best to simply live where you want to live.
However, if we take statistics into account, the best city to live in would be a small, clean city with a walkable downtown. Some suburbs fit that bill, as do some more medium-sized cities.