Does Where You Live Affect How Well You Live?

How does the community you live in impact your wellness?

Where I live, a lot of people, myself included, live in a kind of semi-rural setting: large wooded lots, houses on a couple of acres or much more, spread far apart with woods and fields, and country roads in between them. It’s beautiful and peaceful – this setting definitely contributes to my sense of wellness on a daily basis.

There’s huge new mixed-use subdivision coming to the outskirts of my town. It’ll be much more densely populated and busier than many of us live now, like a mini-city, with homes and apartments as well as taller commercial buildings, stores and restaurants, schools, and parks, all within walking and biking distance.

Which way of living is “healthier?”

Living in the more natural setting gives me the feeling of living “green” and healthy. However, I know that the way I live – in a low density area where there is a relatively low concentration of people and homes  – is considered by land use planning, environmental and public health experts to be neither optimal for human health nor the health of the planet.

The further away we live from other people, stores, schools and our workplaces means more driving, with the environmental degradation and human health impacts that go with it.  And the farther apart we are from each other, the more wild habitat must be destroyed to build longer roads and infrastructure for water and waste.

It can be harder to be active in the type of community I live in, too – you can read my full-fledged bellyache about the challenges of being active in rural communities here.

The ability to walk to destinations like schools and stores has an enormous impact on daily physical activity levels for both children and adults. If you have ever worn a FitBit and tried to track your daily steps you understand completely how helpful it is to walk during the day for practical reasons, like to get to the store, rather than having to go out of your way to take a walk.alr_communities

There are other elements, besides infrastructure for being physically active, that have identified as elements of community design that promote human health. The CDC’s “Healthy Communities Checklist” includes low crime, air quality, easy access to healthy and affordable food, socioeconomic, racial and age diversity, and opportunities for social interaction.

Regardless of what type of place you live in, there are always things we can do to encourage our communities to better support healthy lifestyles by their very design.

There are resources below – like the checklist mentioned in the paragraph above – that might give you some ideas.

How does the place you live affect your sense of wellness? What do you think makes a “healthy community?” What would make your community healthier?

 

Some resources:

Active Living Research Tools & Measures - Active Living Research has a wealth of  resources for improving community design to promote wellness. This link takes you to their tools and measures section, where you’ll find easy to use checklists that can help community members assess what types of changes might make their community healthier.

CDC’s Healthy Places Page – Lots of information and resources here, including a Healthy Community Design Toolkit.

Smart Growth America has terrific information for community advocates who are ready to dig in and work with policymakers on community design issues. Start on this link to read a good explanation of the relationship between human health and community design.

 

 

16 comments

  • We are able to walk to our daughter’s school, to friends’ houses, and to family’s houses. We feel like there is a sense of community as well as a sense of space here. We feel very blessed by that.

  • Where you live impacts when you’ll die. Kinda :)
    Oddly, my chosen city of Minneapolis has consistently been in the top 10 healthiest cities for several years. We have a strong bike culture, parks in every neighborhood and 10,000 lakes. It takes more than cold weather to stop us!

    • Jennifer. You are more than kinda right. If you read about health a lot, you’ve probably heard the phrase “your zip code does more to determine your health than your genetic code.” And that means that the environment you live in has a huge impact on your health. But what it also means is that the neighborhood you live in is going to be a product of your socioeconomic status and your education level – that’s just the way we often group ourselves in this world. And those things have a really, really big influence on health. Here’s someone who can say it much better than I can, if you want to read more: http://www.linkedin.com/today/post/article/20130912154529-43742182-your-zip-code-vs-your-genetic-code

  • Oh yes!!! I remember taking a class in Sociology about this town and you could walk every where or bike! It was awesome. I can’t do that where I live. Well I guess I could walk to the track that is at the school next door but during school hours we can’t.

  • This is a good question. Since moving from New York City to PA 10 years ago, I have LONG missed the joy of walking TO places. Even hiking locally is terribly boring, just a repetitive view of same-same developments. However, allergies and pollution are much less here, and I’ve been FAR more healthy living in the suburbs than the city, in terms of my ability breath and colds and viruses. 6 of one, half dozen of the other?? Plus, I do enjoy knowing my neighbor, which is something you DON’T EVER DO in Queens.

    • Good points. There are usually both positives and negatives to wherever we live. I am from New York City and miss the walking, too. I used to walk 20 blocks a day going to and from work without even thinking about it. But lack of allergens and knowing your neighbors – those are biggies!

  • We just moved to a huge city from a much smaller area a couple of months ago. I love how much closer we are to everything. It’s so nice that we walk to a lot, and not have to do a lot of driving.

    I am also so excited for all of the new opportunities for races too. I have my 14 races for #14in2014 planned out. Much easier living in a much bigger city! :)

    • Rachel, that’s one I hadn’t thought of. In a bigger city you have more opportunities for races – as well as probably other types of sports and activities. Good luck with those 14 races!!!!

  • I know I’m definitely more likely to get outside for activity because we live next to a recreational trail! Driving to one or running along a busy road just doesn’t appeal to me.

    • Being next to a trail is so great. Years ago I lived next to a trail – meaning I didn’t have to get in my car to get to it – and I took up mountain biking because of it. Probably never would have if I hadn’t lived next to that trail.

  • I think where you live had a huge deal to do with your lifestyle and health. I live in southern Alabama and for some reason we are always one of the last people to catch onto the newest trends. Also a lot of people here are unhealthy and it’s so easy to follow your surroundings and eat out and hang on the couch like everyone else. Luckily the health craze is making it’s way here and it’s becoming easy to find people to hang out with that are interested in the same things and healthier foods are getting easier to find in the store.

  • Dee

    We live in the suburbs where everyone is out and active. Despite all that is wrong with city dwelling it is definitely a plus in this area. My neighborhood however has no sidewalks so we must drive to places in order to take advantage and that’s just what we do. There are easily dozens of parks and trails within a few minutes drive.

  • I live in more the setting you described as your own…very rural, kind of out in the country. But also on a rural highway, so I can only go run or walk on our road early in the morning when it’s not busy. We do have a big yard, but for my own outdoors exercise/activity, I have to drive somewhere.

  • Last year we moved from Las Vegas to Raleigh and it was definitely a healthier switch. The weather is so much better here that we spend more time outside and with our windows opened. Plus our yard is much bigger for my kids to play. However, I miss being so close to California produce. Oddly enough fresh fruits and vegetables were better quality and cheaper living in the desert.

    • Weather is a big one, too, isn’t it? I was thinking about it when I was watching the Winter Olympics this year – all those people who became great skiers and snowboarders and such took good advantage of the environments they grew up in.

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