After 14 years of big city life (New York City and Buenos Aires), I have really started to feel the mental, physical and emotional effects of a long-term urban life. The past few years were some of the most difficult ones for me, having not found the time to escape the city for even a short vacation to a more natural environment. Finally, I managed to plan a 3-month trip to practice yoga in Thailand, a somewhat drastic move for me, but something that felt absolutely necessary after having reached the threshold of what my mind, body and spirit could survive in a chaotic city environment. The results of spending time in nature, with my bare feet on the ground and breathing in fresh air, were life changing. I returned to the city life refreshed, energized, healthy and ready to take on life’s challenges once again. To support those of you who are also living in urban environments, I’ve put together some recommendations for staying healthy and happy in the city.
These days the number of people residing in towns and cities is larger than ever. More than half of the world's population is now living in urban areas. Even though there are benefits to job availability, access to healthcare, income potential, and an adequate supply of food and housing, there is no doubt that living in overcrowded and polluted cities is detrimental to health and wellbeing. Children in particular are impacted by the poor quality air, access to an endless supply of processed foods and drinks, and a life spent mostly indoors and in front of a TV. Whereas most adults can remember playing in the streets as children, only 20% play in the streets these days. Instead they spend the majority of their time in very hygienic homes, which according to the “hygiene hypothesis” may prevent the immune system from developing a natural resistance to germs and bacteria. As a result, children are more prone to asthma, allergies, obesity, high blood sugar/insulin resistance and even myopia, a severe shortsightedness due to lack of sunlight. There is also evidence that urban upbringings contribute to behavioral problems such as ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder).
Adults are no better off over the long term, especially from a mental health perspective. Studies have shown that adults living in cities have a 39% higher risk of mood disorders, 21% higher risk of anxiety disorders and are 5 times more likely to develop eating disorders. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), constant noise can contribute to hypertension and heart disease. Air pollution contributes to heart attacks, strokes, asthma, allergies, and other respiratory problems. All night light from street lamps and buildings disrupts sleep and melatonin production. Overcrowding leads to greater stress and violence. And of course having access to convenience foods that are typically processed and contain artificial ingredients, sugar, and hydrogenated fats are leading to the spike in obesity, diabetes, heart disease and cancer cases. Alcoholism, drug abuse, and STDs are also more likely to develop in urban surroundings.
So, if your life has you living in the city despite potential health consequences, luckily there are some things you can do to counteracts effects its and stay in good health. Here are my top 5 recommendations for a healthy city life.
Regular exercise is excellent for lowering stress levels, reducing blood pressure, boosting the immune system, anti-aging and reducing cancer risk. It also helps raise your insulin levels. Exercise is also a great way to sweat out toxins absorbed from the environment and poor food choices.
2. Get a good night’s rest
Sleeping through the night is absolutely essential to good health. However in a city where there is more light, it can be difficult to produce enough melatonin to do so. Melatonin, the production of which is dependent on complete darkness, is very important for stimulating the immune system, reducing inflammation and destroying free radicals. It can also control weight gain, lower cholesterol and reduce heart disease risk. Keep the room you sleep in pitch black and wear an eye mask if necessary. If noise is an issue, try drowning it out with earplugs.
3. Reduce stress
The primary source of illness is chronic stress, which breaks down the immune system and creates health imbalances. Noise, overcrowding, and social and work pressures can all lead to stress and anxiety. Look for ways to reduce stress such as a yoga or meditation practice or regular exercise regimen. For deeper issues, therapies such as hypnotherapy, biofeedback and transformational workshops/coaching can be helpful.
4. Eat healthy
The most important dietary decision you can make for your health is to avoid processed foods and drinks, especially soda. You’ll also want to reduce sugar, including processed carbohydrates such as white bread and pasta. Excess sugar can lead to diabetes, obesity, cell damage and cancer. Instead opt for a primarily plant-based diet consisting of lots of vegetables, fruits, nuts/seeds, whole grains and legumes. This will create an alkaline environment in the body, which will improve your immune system and lower your risk of chronic disease.
5. Spend time in the sun and outdoors
Whatever you do, don’t get stuck being indoors all the time. Getting sun is extremely important for raising Vitamin D levels, a nutrient essential for preventing disease. It’s also important to ground yourself, which means putting your bare feet directly on the earth, which is possible in any city park. Grounding allows your body to receive negative electrons from the earth, essential for balancing the body’s biological rhythms. Exposure to high levels of electromagnetic radiation, common for city dwellers, makes our blood positively charged and prone to disease. Being outside will also contribute to a brighter, happier mood and also increase concentration levels. This also means making plans to escape the city as much as needed to stay connected to nature and maintain good health.
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Published On: May 03, 2013