Depending on who you ask, cities are either crowded cesspools or pinnacles of cultural achievement, but even the most urbane urban dweller has to admit that it's not always sunshine, roses, and pizza at 4 a.m. Living in the city affects your health over time, and it's not always an improvement. Densely populated areas tend to create pollution, which contributes to premature mortality rates across the world, and research has shown that living in such close quarters with millions of other people can seriously stress you out — but more on all that later. Add in the ever-present risk of sitting in a pool of someone else's sweat on the subway in the summer, and it's enough to make you wonder why people live in cities at all.
The answer depends on the person, but whatever someone's reason for living in a city, they clearly have their advantages. According to the United Nations, a little more than half the world's population lived in cities in 2014, and that number is projected to rise to 66 percent by 2050. With urbanization on a steady rise, you might wind up living in a city eventually, provided you're not living in one already. Here are seven ways a city dweller's health is influenced by the place they call home.
1Avoiding A Violent Death
Cities have a poor reputation when it comes to safety, but according to research, they're far safer than you might think. Although the risk of homicide is higher in cities, the chances of injury death are 20 percent higher in rural areas compared to large cities. Injury death includes both violent crime and accidents, and the latter could be noteworthy here. Car accidents are one of the leading causes of death in the country, and city dwellers tend to have more transportation options than someone out in the middle of nowhere.
2Heightened Risk Of Psychosis
This spring, a long-running study of British twins found a connection between living in a densely-populated area and reporting psychotic experiences. After controlling for factors like drug use, socioeconomic status, and psychiatric history, researchers concluded that 18-year-olds raised in a city were 43 percent more likely to show signs of psychosis. Prior studies have found similar results, indicating that there's a relationship between living in a city and developing schizophrenia. Before you start freaking out, though, there's no evidence that cities cause psychosis; there are too many variables at play to draw any legitimate conclusions.
3Air Pollution All Day, Every Day
As I mentioned before, most cities are blanketed with air pollution, and that can be bad news for your health. It's been associated with the development of asthma and shown to worsen symptoms in people who already have it. According to the World Health Organization, air pollution can increase the risk for respiratory health problems and cardiovascular diseases like stroke. Basically, check the air pollution levels before you go for a long morning run.
4Lower Risk Of Suicide
In March, a federal report showed that suicide rates in less urban areas have begun to outstrip those in cities. Researchers attributed this to limited access to psychiatric care, greater social isolation, and economic difficulties in these areas. (The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline can be found online or at 1-800-273-8255.)
5Walking More (If You're A New Yorker)
New Yorkers, rejoice. Although urban living doesn't always mean you more active, residents of the Big Apple appear to be among the fittest city dwellers. In 2015, Fitbit analyzed user data across the country, and New Yorkers consistently walked the most. Furthermore, they appear to walk the fastest, which is great for their health even if it doesn't endear them to tourists.
A 2014 study published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology followed more than 500 children living in inner cities in the United States during the first five years of their lives. According to researchers, 10 percent of these children developed confirmed food allergies, while 17 percent had possible allergies. Considering the CDC estimates that four to six percent of children in the entire U.S. are affected by food allergies, this is a good bit higher than the overall number.
That being said, this information applies to children who have grown up in cities, so there's no reason to panic and sell your Manhattan loft out of fear of developing a peanut allergy.
7Stressing You Out
Finally, research suggests that living in a city can make you jumpy. In 2011, a study found that the amygdalas of people who lived in a city were far more active in stressful situations than those who lived in less populated areas. In other words, city dwellers were more sensitive to stress. Then again, if you've ever unexpectedly blown up at someone who stood too close in line at the grocery store, you may know that already.