We all know how our environment can affect our mood, state of mind, and general well-being. We’re just learning that the effects may be even greater than we once thought. From everything to depression and anxiety, urban environments may now be linked to several mental and physical health problems.

The health risks of being a city dweller

The Centre for Urban Design and Mental Health is estimating that people who live in urban cities may have a 40% higher risk of depression. They also estimate you have double the risk of schizophrenia and a 20% higher chance of anxiety.

There are several factors believed to be the cause of some of the mental strains on people who live in urban environments. One factor is the closeness to other people in terms of traffic, overcrowding, busy streets, and long, congested lines. Environmental factors include noise, air pollution, construction, and overcrowded spaces. Heavy metals such as pesticides, lead, BPA, and noise pollution have all been linked to a higher risk for depression. Physically, air pollution can also reap havoc on your body. Air pollution has been linked to millions of deaths each year caused by respiratory and cardiovascular problems.

The lack of green space is also a notable contributor to mental health issues. When there are fewer trees, green areas, and parks, we are exposed to higher levels of toxic air pollution. Trees, green spaces, and general time spent outdoors are known to have many positive effects on your well-being and mental health. When we’re only exposed to dense urban environments, over time, this can take a toll on our health.

How to fight back

While we can’t knock down buildings, reduce populations, or reverse the effects of air pollution, we can do a few things to change the impact our environment has on our health. Practically speaking, we need to live in cities for a number of reasons. From better access to jobs, healthcare, education, and infrastructure, the list is almost endless as to why people live in urban environments versus camping it out in the wilderness. Since we can’t all be rural farmers or woodsy nomads, there are a few things we can do to take matters into our own hands.

In terms of infrastructure and city planning, there are a few big things we can do to combat the negative health effects of city living. For one, planning in more green space, parks, and landscape is an easy place to start. The more trees and plants there are, the more we can reduce air pollution, muffle noise and boost our moods. Providing more green space also lends itself to more physical activities outdoors. This boosts our vitamin D absorption and increases our physical activity levels. The healthier we are, the better we feel.

For children, access to parks and green space is vital. Kids need to be able to play and explore in safe outdoor spaces. Too much time indoors has been linked to attention disorders and behavioral problems. More parks and access to nature is great for our children’s mental and physical health.

On a personal level, we can do a few things as city slickers to make sure we’re getting more time outdoors. Running or walking outside is a free activity that’s easy to fit into a busy schedule. Even just taking a meal, conference call or workout outside can be a big mood booster. Instead of taking a phone call indoors, just step outside and soak up some sunshine. If there’s an errand you can run while walking, try it. Many group fitness classes are embracing this concept by starting to offer outdoor class options such as rooftop yoga or group runs. Any little change you can make in your daily life to get more time outside and around some greenery will greatly help your mood, energy levels, and general well-being.