For many city dwellers, the thought of a country change is the stuff dreams are made of. They’ll fall into reveries of rolling paddocks, friendly townsfolk, fresh produce and crisp air – and of course a healthy lifestyle.
Well as it turns out, the stereotype might not stray too far from the truth. In fact, a whole host of research backs up the health benefits of living in the country. And we’re not just talking physical health, but mental health too.
The biophilia effect
What’s the first image that pops into your mind when you think of the country? We’re guessing it’s something along the lines of rolling hills, a farm, a forest or expansive green fields.
The term ‘biophilia’ – a love of life and all that is alive – was first coined by German-American philosopher and psychoanalyst Erich Fromm. Several decades later, American biologist and naturalist Edward O. Wilson published his ‘biophilia hypothesis’, which suggests that people have an innate tendency to connect with nature and other forms of life.
This innate connection plays out in our physical and mental health in a myriad of ways.
Health benefits of living in the country
Many of us may associate the country with relaxation, restoration and de-stressing. Turns out, the science does too.
Stress Reduction Theory (SRT) was first put forward by healthcare design educator and researcher Roger Ulrich. SRT backs the idea that nature can offer us mental health benefits. His theory states that even just looking at scenery containing natural elements after experiencing stress can have a restorative effect on our minds. Imagine the health benefits of living in the country for a lifetime!
Similarly, mental fatigue and concentration can be improved by spending time in (or even just looking at) nature. Rachel and Stephen Kaplan’s book, Experience of Nature, introduces the idea of attention restoration theory and explores the restorative effects that green spaces and natural environments can have on our minds. Many of us will have also experienced the renewed mental energy and focus that comes from spending time in the country.
More positive feelings about the future
Ever get the feeling that people living out in the country are a little more content? ACM’s recent Heartbeat of Australia survey has shown exactly that. The national study was produced in partnership with the University of Canberra to get an understanding ‘of Australian sentiment in 2022’.
The results showed that people living in major capital cities are more likely to have negative feelings about the year ahead, compared to people living outside these cities. Regional Aussies said they felt more happy, optimistic, content and energised than their city slicker counterparts.
City dwellers, on the other hand, reported more feelings of stress, frustration, pessimism and anxiety. More positive feelings is a great example of the mental health benefits of living in the country.
Greater feelings of connection
While the notions of loneliness and social isolation are common myths about life out in the country, the Heartbeat of Australia shows a different result. In fact, more Australians living in capital cities said they felt lonely when thinking about the next 12 months than their regional counterparts.
The sense of community and connection often felt within smaller towns and rural areas may be a factor in helping its residents to feel less lonely.
‘When it comes to country versus city living, people who live in a country town tend to be the happiest. People who live in rural and regional areas have a stronger connection to their community compared to city dwellers and this may go some way to explaining their higher level of wellbeing,’ writes the authors of What makes us happy? Ten years of the Australian Unity Wellbeing Index.
Cleaner air to breathe
A major advantage of living in a rural area away from the traffic and pollutants of ‘the big smoke’ is that fresh country air everyone waxes lyrical about. Various studies have shown that geographical location can impact air quality.
One study suggested that air quality improves as areas become more rural (or less urban), while another found that in a large population-based cohort, living close to heavy traffic was associated with a higher incidence of dementia.
Poor air quality is associated with various health outcomes, both physical and mental. Air pollutants have been implicated in cardiovascular and respiratory diseases and there is increasing evidence of the link between air pollution and depression.
Additional health benefits of living in the country
There are a few other consequential health benefits of living in the country that are worth mentioning.
- Healthier food choices
Since there are typically fewer takeaway and food delivery options in the country than in the cities, residents are encouraged to cook their own meals, usually resulting in healthier outcomes. In the Riverina region, the availability of fresh local produce is another incentive.
- More physical exercise
The abundance of stunning natural scenery and walking trails in the country can act as motivation to get on those running shoes or hop on a bike. Not only does exercise have the obvious physical health benefits, but walking in nature also helps reduce negative thinking and improves short-term memory.
- Improved sleep
The Centre for Urban Design and Mental Health explains that living in a city environment full of ambient noise and light pollution can erode your sleep patterns and make you more likely to sleep at times that don’t match your biological clock. Think of the blaring sirens, beeping horns and noises from your unit block neighbours.
Now picture the peace and quiet of the country with the stars for company. We can guess which option you’d rather fall asleep to!
A healthier life is just a country change away
If you’re looking for a healthier lifestyle, it’s just a country change away. So many have made the Riverina their home, and are already experiencing the happiness and joy that comes from living in the beautiful countryside. Make the Country Change for a better quality of living and a long, healthy life.
Photo of a couple enjoying the views at Galore Hill in Lockhart Shire. Photo credit: Matt Beaver Photography