The Great American Dream: The ideal of escaping the crime, riff-raff, hustle and bustle, and constant noise of city life. You escape that crowded place and commute home to the comfortable sanctuary that is your suburban neighborhood. Daryl gives you a friendly wave from the cockpit of his lawnmower on your way by, "Howdy!" The smell of Susan's petunias wafts in the window of your chrome-clad Chevy (which is newer than Daryl's, of course) as the deep growl of the engine joins the symphony of birds that gather at your feeder each afternoon. Sparky cocks his head from the porch as he spots you beyond the crisp picket fence line. He bounds across an opulent sprawl of meticulously-cultivated Kentucky Bluegrass to greet you. A white-trimmed tribute to your success, this half-acre is your pride and joy. You made it.
Or did you? Fresh out of an episode of Leave it to Beaver, Americana promoted a post-WWII tidal wave of suburbanization that we are still surfing today. However, preferences of living space are begining to change, and there are a host of new studies advocating alternative lifestyles.
The Case For Moving In:
You might think that moving closer into the city would be a step backward, but consider this: The University of Waterloo has conducted research highlighting an inverse relationship between commute time and overall life satisfaction.
"We found that the longer it takes someone to get to work, the lower their satisfaction with life in general..." -Margo Hilbrecht, Professor of Applied Sciences, Associate Director of Research for the Canadian Index of Wellbeing.
The study found that longer commute times induced feelings of anxiety linked to time constraints and lack of physical exercise. This commute time is linked to weight issues, higher rates of work-related illness, lack of energy, and blood pressure problems to name a few.
The study states that physical activity can help offset these issues (better hit the water!) but the time-crunch commuting causes frequently deters people from making these efforts. Researchers found a positive correlation between leisure time and overall happiness.
Living closer to the city also gives residents more resources within walking distance, increasing fitness levels and the positive mental stimulation that this induces. Mental and emotional health are proven to be closely correlated with physical activity.
When you break it down, moving closer to the city and your workplace can provide many positive lifestyle adjustments.
The Case For Moving Out:
Our favorite option, spending time in nature is proven to increase mental and physical health while being a very effective antidepressant. One of many studies leading to this conclusion, Stanford University found that exposure to nature has positive effects on one's mood and decreases blood flow to parts of the brain linked to depression. It also increases mental clarity and working memory.
Getting closer to nature also makes exhilarating physical activities more accessible! Let's face it, we can all get lazy after a long day at work, but there's no motivation like having nature right outside your door.
Whatever You Prefer, Just Get Some Exercise!
The two suburban alternatives presented above have one thing in common: exercise.
Exercise triggers the release of endorphins and dopamine, the chemicals in our brains responsible for feelings of pleasure and satisfaction. If you ever hear the term "runner's high", it is a real thing and it comes from sustained aerobic exercise. As you may have guessed, these chemicals are highly important to overall happiness.
Research exploring the connection between our health and the natural world is growing as rates of mental health disorders increase and average physical fitness decreases. Dr. Scott Paluska from the Rex Sports Medicine Institute in North Carolina, and Thomas Schwenk, from the University of Michigan Medical Center, found that physical exercise is a powerful tool to fight depression, anxiety, and panic disorders.
It also boosts confidence and just makes you feel fantastic about yourself in general! Accomplish something difficult, master a new skill, feel good about your body, just enjoy moving around.
If you're feeling up for it, maybe even give paddleboarding a shot!