Where to live for a long and healthy life

Why living in the mountains, by the sea, or in the countryside is a good idea...

back of fitness woman open arms to sunrise at seaside


If you want to live a long and healthy life, research shows that you may be better off living at altitude, by the coast, or at least moving out to the suburbs...

See also: 15 quick mood boosters that work

See also: Sleep study shows daytime dozing provides key to 'nappiness'

Move to the mountains
Various studies have shown that people who live at high altitude have a longer life expectancy. Take the inhabitants of Sardinia's mountains , who are more than twice as likely to live to 100 compared to people in the rest of Italy. Most men living in mountain villages work as shepherds, and walk at least five miles a day over the rough terrain with their flocks, which could explain their longevity.

The Greek island of Ikaria, home to the world's highest concentration of male centenarians, is also very hilly, which may be one reason why people there stay healthier into old age. Six out of 10 of people aged over 90 are still physically active on the island, compared to about 20% for the rest of the world.

According to the University of Colorado School of Medicine, 20 American counties with the highest life expectancy had an average altitude of 5,967 feet above sea level.

... or at least head for the hills

With a life expectancy of 82.39 years, Switzerland regularly appears within the world's top countries for health and longevity. The Swiss might eat more chocolate than anyone else on the planet, but they're also very active. Swiss people like to walk – to work, to the shops, and no matter what the weather. Sundays in Switzerland are seen as a day to head outside - to hike in the mountains, cycle or go skiing.

Physical inactivity is the fourth-leading risk factor for mortality and is estimated to be the main cause of 21–25 per cent of breast and colon cancer, 27 per cent of diabetes and around 30 per cent of heart disease cases, according to The World Health Organisation.

Experts recommend we do 150 minutes of moderate exercise a week – yet one-in-four British adults walk for no more than one hour a week (including from the car to the shops or work), according to one survey.

Even if you're getting on in years, it's never too late to start exercising. A study carried out at McMaster University in Canada found that people aged 65 to 70 who began a fitness regime in later life were able to reverse ageing back to levels similar to those seen in younger adults. So if you can't move to the mountains, find your nearest hill and walk up it.

Live by the sea
There's nothing like the smell of fresh, sea air. Many people dream of retiring by the coast, and it seems that moving to the seaside could be a good move for your health. Scientists at the European Centre for Environment and Human Health at the University of Exeter analysed data from the UK census of more than 48 million people to determine the effect of geographical location on a person's health. They found that the closer to the sea you live, the healthier you feel.

Although experts aren't exactly sure why, it appears that living by the sea reduces stress and may encourage people to exercise. Studies show that listening to the sound of the sea can change wave patterns in the brain, helping to lull you into a deep state of relaxation. The sea air is also charged with negative ions that improve our ability to absorb oxygen, and may help to promote better quality sleep.

... or at least walk by some water
Research shows that exercising outdoors is particularly beneficial for your mental health. You don't need to go on a long hike to benefit – just five minutes of exercising in a "green space" such as a park can help to improve your mental wellbeing, according to a study published in the Environmental Science and Technology journal.

If you exercise next to an area that contains water, such as a river, reservoir, canal, or lake, you'll benefit even more, say researchers.

Move to the countryside
People living in rural areas live longer than their city-dwelling counterparts, according to a 2010 report from the Office for National Statistics. Men live for two more years, and women for one-and-a-half more years for women.

... or at least move out to the suburbs
If rural living isn't for you, at least consider moving to the leafy suburbs. People whose homes are surrounded by the most greenery are 13% less likely to die from cancer according to researchers from Harvard University. The chance of dying from respiratory disease is also 34% lower than those living in grey urban areas. Experts put the finding down to lower pollution levels in the countryside and the effect of greenery on mental health.