Sea, mountain, countryside: where to live to be healthy

healthy places to live

More and more studies show a natural environment is good for your health.

Less pollution, less stress, facilities to do sports, sunny, positive effects on mental or immune health… The benefits of living away from city centers are increasingly proven. Here are some arguments before you prepare your suitcases.

Lower mortality when living near nature

Researchers at the Harvard University Public Graduate School and the Brigham and Women’s Hospital wanted to examine the association between vegetation presence and mortality. For this, they used medical information on 108 630 women from the Nurses’ Health Study (USA) between 2000 and 2008. The mortality risk was compared with the level of vegetation present around the dwellings, measured by satellite imagery. There were 8 604 deaths over the period studied.

The 20% of women with the most vegetation in their environment (for 250 m around) had 12% less mortality than those with the least vegetation. This association was particularly strong for respiratory and cancer mortality: women living in areas with the most vegetation had 34% risk in fewer deaths from respiratory diseases compared to those with the least vegetation. These associations are explained by factors such as: physical activity, the presence of particles less than 2.5 µm, social life, mental health, exposure to air pollution, noise, or stress.

These results should encourage urban planners to incorporate more vegetation into urban areas.

Living in the mountains to keep your figure

According to a study of American soldiers, overweight people living at high altitudes would have less risk of tipping into obesity than those living at low altitudes. When the altitude rises, the air pressure decreases and the body has more difficulty in supplying oxygen: it’s in a situation of hypoxia. Studies have shown a reduction in appetite and body fat in conditions of hypoxia.

The researchers questioned whether hypoxia could limit the risk of obesity. They studied nearly 100 000 overweight soldiers stationed at different elevations in the United States, between 2006 and 2012. Some were assigned at high altitudes, more than 1 960 m, and others at low altitudes, i.e. less than 980 m.

Results: Soldiers assigned at high-altitude had a reduced obesity rate of 41% compared with those at low altitudes. These results appear to be confirmed by observations made on the civilian population: in fact, the American city where one is the thinnest is Boulder, Colorado, at 1 650 m altitude; the American city where one is the largest would be Huntington, West Virginia, located at 171 m altitude only.

This beneficial effect of altitude on weight could be explained for hormonal reasons because hypoxia is associated with an increase in leptin, a hormone suppressing appetite. Cholecystokinin, which stimulates the digestion of fats and proteins, and noradrenaline, which influences appetite by reducing blood flow to the intestine, both increase at high altitude.

In the countryside for good immunity

The idea that an increase in immune disorders (asthma, allergies…) in Western countries is linked to an excess of hygiene is not new: according to the hygienist hypothesis, our immune system would be less in contact with environmental micro-organisms, which would cause chronic inflammation problems.

Some important infections for immune development have been eliminated from developed countries. With urbanization, contacts with animals, green spaces, and therefore micro-organisms of the environment have diminished. The microbial diversity presents on the skin, in the intestine, the lungs has decreased; at the same time, micro-organisms in the environment have become less numerous due to better hygiene.

Because of the loss of old infections, the immune system would have become more dependent on microbiota, such as intestinal flora, and the environment. This is why exposure to environmental micro-organisms such as those which can be found in the countryside would play an important role. This would explain why people living in urban centers with little access to green spaces would suffer more chronic inflammation, as Christopher Lowry explains: chronic inflammation can lead to all kinds of problems, From irritable bowel syndrome to asthma, allergies and even depression.

At sea, health is also better

Spending the time near the sea has a beneficial effect on health. This is what researchers at the University of Exeter (England) say at a conference of the American Geophysical Union. A stay at the beach allows you to expose yourself to the sun and therefore to make the full of vitamin D. But that is not the only health benefit.

Researchers have studied the health of English populations at different points in the territory. They showed those who lived near the coasts had a better state of health. The reasons for this are different: living near the coast reduces stress but also encourages physical activity. Two positive health effects.

Another indication of the beneficial effect of the sea on well-being: an experiment carried out by the researchers. They proposed to different people pictures corresponding to views of hotel rooms; they asked them how much they were willing to pay for the room. Between a view of the sea, the green countryside or the city, most would have paid the most expensive to have a sea view.


James P, Hart JE, Banay RF, Laden F. Exposure to Greenness and Mortality in a Nationwide Prospective Cohort Study of Women. Environ Health Perspect. 2016 Apr 14.

Voss JD, Allison DB, Webber BJ, Otto JL, Clark LL.. Lower Obesity Rate during Residence at High Altitude among a Military Population with Frequent Migration: A Quasi Experimental

Model for Investigating Spatial Causation. PLoS One. 2014 Apr 16;9(4):e93493. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0093493. eCollection 2014.

Rook Graham A.W., Raison Charles L, Lowry Christopher. Microbial “Old Friends”, immunoregulation and socio-economic status. Clin Exp Immunol. 2014 Jan 9. doi: 10.1111/cei.12269.

Jeff Watters, Fred Tyson, Paul Sandifer, Margaret Leinen (modératrice) et Lora Fleming.The Changing Ocean and Impacts on Human Health. AGU science policy conference. 26 juin 2013.


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