Living in a city or a suburb: which is better for your overall health and mental wellbeing?


Couple viewing their suburban home

When you’re deciding where to live, one of the choices you’ll make is whether to move to a city or a suburb. 

You have many locations to choose from – there are 76 official cities in the UK that have been given that status by the royal charter – and while it’s difficult to measure the amount of suburbs, Historic England states that around 80% of England’s population are suburb dwellers.

With so much choice, it may be worth considering the benefits and downsides of living in a city or a suburb.

Alongside your own lifestyle and convenience preferences, you may find it prudent to compare the affect a city or suburb could have on your health and wellbeing, as well as the costs involved with both. Continue reading to find out more. 

You tend to walk more in the city, though the cost of living is generally higher

Perhaps surprisingly, a study reported by the Guardian states that, in 22 UK cities, those living in built-up residential areas had lower levels of obesity and engaged in more physical exercise compared to those living in suburban homes.

This was because people tend to walk more and are generally less dependent on cars or public transport, contributing to a more active lifestyle. 

What’s more, the above source states that those living in areas with a density of more than 32 homes for every hectare – which is typical for new buildings in the UK – had the best health.

As for your mental health, a city tends to offer a range of different events and activities to keep your mind and body engaged. Also, people in well-designed city centres tend to be more socially engaged, positively affecting mental health since socialisation can improve your mood and overall happiness.

Of course, this mainly depends on your personal preferences, as some people may find the bustle of city life inherently stressful. Indeed, some sources indicate a higher risk of depression in the city. Science Alert reports that there was a 39% increased risk of depression in urban areas in Western Europe and the US.

Varied factors such as overcrowding, noise pollution, and the bustle of city life can all contribute to mental health issues. 

It’s also worth considering the other potential downsides of living in the city. Research from the University of Manchester suggests that people living in urban areas are more likely to experience hay fever symptoms. Runny noses, sore eyes, and wheezy breathing are roughly twice as severe in urban areas, which could exacerbate asthma or other chronic health issues. 

Many aspects of city living could negatively affect your respiratory health, as increased pollutants in the city can make your respiratory tract more prone to allergens.  

It’s also important to note that, generally, you’ll pay more for housing in the city compared to a suburb. In fact, the Evening Standard reports that, since the start of 2022, property prices in UK cities have typically grown by an average of 9.2% compared to 7.9% in surrounding areas. 

While a suburb typically offers more access to green spaces, the job market is typically more competitive

Living in suburbia often offers a vastly contrasting experience to city life, with its own benefits and downsides. 

One significant advantage to living in a suburb is the proximity to more green spaces. Indeed, a study funded by the Scottish Government’s Rural and Environment Science and Analytical Services Division found that green space has been associated with various health benefits. 

For instance, when you go for a walk in a green space, this tends to lower your heart rate and blood pressure. Doing so can also release more lymphocytes, which hunt down cancerous and virus-infected cells.

Moreover, since house prices and living costs tend to be lower in a suburb, this can alleviate financial stress, further improving your mental health. 

However, since there are typically far less people living in a suburb, you may dislike the “small town syndrome” sometimes found in these areas, where everyone seems to know your business and act as though the world outside the suburb is irrelevant. 

Also, while evidence has shown that several factors contribute to a higher risk of depression in the city, you may need to commute for longer if you’re living in a suburb. 

This could, in turn, affect your mental health somewhat – Patient UK found that those who commuted for over an hour were 33% more likely to suffer from depression and 21% more likely to be obese compared to those who commute for half an hour or less.

As you can see, the differences between living in a city or a suburb can seem somewhat nuanced. Even though the city tends to offer more opportunities for social connections, they may also result in a higher risk of depression.

Conversely, while a suburb may come with more access to green spaces and a lower cost of living, the job market is typically far more competitive. 

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