Is It Healthier to Live in the Country?

In a fascinating article in New Scientist, Nora Schultz presents an overview of recent research connecting health and proximity to nature. It is important to have statistically based scientific research that confirms the benefits of proximity to the natural world.

Health and well-being and whether they are more easily achieved in the country or city have been a topic of discourse since the Roman era. In the 18th century, English literary types waded in on the topic of the advantages of living in the country. Samuel Johnson, in several of his essays, clearly recommended rural living even though he was very much a city dweller.

Of course then and now, only a tiny proportion of the population find themselves in any position to choose where they live. But if one were to have choice, it’s worth considering some new compelling scientific evidence indicating that there are significant benefits for health, both mental and physical, in country living or at least living near green spaces.

Children in Greener Areas Have a Lower Body Mass Index

It goes without saying that air quality is in many places is better in the country than a city. This will certainly have an effect on long term health. But there are other advantages of country life. In one study, children in rural or green areas were shown to have a lower body mass index than urban residents of the same age. And the propensity to increase body mass index in youth was lower in greener areas. These results are, in the words of the authors of the paper, “presumably due to increased physical activity or time spent outdoors.”

Adults Living Near Green Space are Healthier

For adults, the advantages of rural living are confirmed by a study of Dutch medical records which revealed a significant difference in the prevalence rate of high blood pressure, cardiac disease, coronary heart disease, back complaints, depression, anxiety disorder and asthma among others. All the records revealed less prevalence of 15 of 24 disease clusters of patients living in proximity to green space. The greatest difference in the population near green space from the urban population was noted in the prevalence of anxiety disorder and depression.

If medicine is the art of postponing death, evidence that a prescription of country or near country living is in order. An observational population study in England showed that health inequalities in pre-retirement age groups were less among those living in greenest environments.

A Walk in the Park Helps Children With ADHD

The salubrious effects of a walk in the park to relieve tension and clear the mind are intuitively known by everyone. There is evidence that this can be proved scientifically at least with respect to children with ADHD. An article in the Journal of Attention Disorders concluded that children with ADHD were able to concentrate better after a walk in a park than after a walk in the city and that these improvements were comparable to those achieved through a common medication.

It is clear that there is something about proximity to a natural world as opposed to a man-made urban environment that affects a broad range of mental and physical health. While this has been common knowledge for centuries it is significant that it is becoming a subject for scientific research at a time when access to the natural world, through either living in a rural environment or visiting parks, is becoming less and less possible for the vast majority of the world’s population.

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