How much would you pay for an additional 9 years of life?
10,000$? 100,000$? More? Is there a financial limit to how much 9 years are worth?
After all 9 years means 3285 days or 78840 hours or 4730400 minutes. There is no limit to the amount of money that you could potentially make. Time is the only non-renewable resource. You should trade money for time.
But what if it were cheap to live 9 years longer? You don’t need to spend millions on unproven high-tech pharmaceuticals and gadgets. You only need to make an uncommon decision and live by it.
Moving from the city to nature gives you from 5 to 10 years of extra life
It’s that simple. Move from city to the countryside. It can be anywhere you want as long as you are in nature, have a nice view, and it’s not in the middle of a city. It can be a remote cabin. It can be in a village. It can be near the mountains. It can be by the seaside. Or it can be close to neither. The point is to get out of the city and into nature.
How do you gain 10 years of life? It’s simple arithmetic. I calculated the impact in life years of several factors of city life. Add them together and you get an estimation of added life gained. This will vary depending on your current location and how bad the city where you live is. This is why the number of years is a range, rather than fixed number for everyone.
What are the factors which reduce life in the city?
- Air pollution
- Immune system
- Heart disease
- Stress and anxiety
- Lack of grounding
For me, the difference between continuing to live the rest of my life in the capital and moving to the countryside in nature adds up to 8 years. I have given myself 8 years of life by moving in a cabin at the foot of the mountains.
Your arithmetic will vary depending on the factors above. Let’s see the formula so you can add up your potential years gained.
How much time do you spend in traffic? In the city where I lived, the average commute is 46 minutes one-way, so 92 minutes per day. I should be working for another 48 years. So this adds up to 730 days, or about 2 years of my life. If I had remained in the city, I would have spent two years total just waiting angry in traffic.
How much time do you spend in traffic to go to work? Take the daily average, multiply it by the number of years you expect to continue working. That’s how much time you would save by switching to a remote job.
Subtotal for me up to now: 730 days
2. Air pollution
Depending on where you live, the impact is lower or higher. For example Naples in Italy is much more polluted than Helsinki in Finland.
How do you find out how much you would lose? You can find city level data on the amount of air pollution in your residence, but it does not tell you how much it reduces your lifespan.
The complex research that estimated the three year global toll has a complex algorithm that you would find it hard to replicate at home. Fortunately, the scientists arrived at the global estimation by estimating the impact at a country level. And they published the country data. So you can look up the estimated years lost to air pollution in your country.
This means going through annexes in a scientific paper here.
|Country||Years lost to air pollution|
|Af. Burkina Faso||3.49|
|Af. Cape Verde||2.17|
|Af. Central African Republic||5.38|
|Af. Congo, Dem. Rep.||2.77|
|Af. Côte d’Ivoire||4.64|
|Af. Equatorial Guinea||3.32|
|Af. Libyan Arab Jamahiriya||2.40|
|Af. Sao Tome and Principe||1.55|
|Af. Sierra Leone||5.88|
|Af. South Africa||2.04|
|Af. Sudan + S-Sudan||4.66|
|Au. New Zealand||0.78|
|Au. Solomon Islands||0.52|
|E-As. North Korea||4.47|
|E-As. South Korea||2.16|
|Eu. Bosnia and Herzegovina||2.54|
|Eu. Serbia and Montenegro||3.09|
|Eu. United Kingdom||1.55|
|N-Am. United States of America||1.62|
|S-Am. Antigua and Barbuda||1.33|
|S-Am. Costa Rica||0.67|
|S-Am. Dominican Republic||1.11|
|S-Am. El Salvador||1.21|
|S-Am. Saint Lucia||1.75|
|S-Am. Saint Vincent and Grenad||2.13|
|S-Am. Trinidad and Tobago||2.15|
|S-As. Papua New Guinea||0.79|
|S-As. Sri Lanka||2.00|
|S-As. Viet Nam||2.16|
|W-As. Russian Federation||2.77|
|W-As. Saudi Arabia||1.68|
|W-As. United Arab Emirates||1.34|
Once you have found your country, you need to refine your estimate based on where you live. This estimation is less accurate than the country calculation. Look at your locality, and based on local air quality measurements, try to determine whether your air quality is worse or better than the average, and by how much. Also take into account where in the city you live. If you are next to a high traffic avenue, it will be worse than if you live in a small alley neighborhood. Most air quality measurements show data from multiple points within big cities. It is far from being sufficient data to determine air quality at any one precise point. But it should suffice to give you a general idea.
Once you know how much your home air quality deviates from the country, you can apply this correction to the country years lost to get a sense of how many years of life you might be losing.
For example I lived in Bucharest, the capital of Romania. My apartment faced the interior courtyard which ad some trees, so it was partially protected from pollution. At the same time, it was in the city center, next to a rather crowded main artery. Air pollution was often very high in measurement points close to my home. The average for Romania is 3.44 years lost. I estimated I would lose 4+ years across my lifetime. But then I subtracted one year because I am already 35 years old and I cannot take back the years already lived in pollution.
If all of this is too complicated, just consider your country average. It’s not a precise estimation, but it’s much better than believing there is no impact.
Subtotal for me up to now: 1825 days
3. Heart disease
What is the number one cause of death worldwide? Cardiovascular disease. It’s almost double compared to the second cause of death: cancers. Cardiovascular disease is the top cause of death not only for old people, but for everyone over the age of 15. It loses out to infectious diseases in very poor countries.
Statistically speaking, you are very likely to die from heart disease. This means that anything you do that lowers your likelihood to develop cardiovascular diseases, has a significant positive effect on your lifespan. Anything that improves your heart health, or protects it from harm, lengthens your life.
Nature does this. Several Asia countries have a practice of forest bathing. This is exposure to nature, forests in particular, as medical treatment. It is prescribed to patients by doctors as a medical treatment. There is considerable research around the practice of forest bathing and its effects due to the high number of practitioners.
One finding is that exposure to nature: a simple walk in the forest has significant beneficial effects. A meta-analysis found that it improves cardiovascular health. It shows a walk in the forest reduces blood pressure, heart rate, increases the power of heart rate variability, improves cardiac-pulmonary parameters and metabolic function.
What is the dose-benefit relationship for nature exposure? We don’t know. I have not found research that establishes a quantified relationship, e.g. for one hour of forest walking per week you get 1% improvement in cardiovascular health. The closest approximation I could find is a research mentioned in the Nature Fix book by Florence Williams. It measured a 6% benefit in heart rate for forest bathing. It is a bad approximation, but better than nothing.
Assuming a 6% improvement in heart health, and that cardiovascular deterioration reduces lifespan by 5 years on average, we get about 109 days of extra life from being exposed to nature. This is likely an underestimation as it uses conservative estimates, but I err on the side of caution in these calculations. I think the result is incredibly high as it is, so it’s better to underestimate than to seem incredible.
Subtotal for me up to now: 1934 days
4. Immune system
The same forest bathing practice allowed researchers to study the effects of nature exposure on the immune system. The same Nature Fix book by Florence Williams details remarkable research that showed that exposure to nature quantifiably increases immune system function. One possible mechanism for action are the essential oils and other substances secreted by trees in the forest. These can stimulate immune cells when exposed in-vitro (e.g. in a petri dish). This proves the effect is not just psychological, but rather biological.
Why does the immune system matter? After all, few people die of infectious diseases in the developed world. Yet the immune system does much more than fight colds and coronaviruses. It is involved in many chronic health issues, such as autoimmune conditions. Many health problems are immune in nature even if they don’t seem, such as allergies and rheumatoid arthritis.
In my calculations, I focused on a different category of health problems: cancers. The immune system is critical in cancer. The most promising line of cancer treatment is through modulation of the immune response. Why? Because the immune system fights cancer cells. We all develop pre-cancerous cells all the time. If unchecked, these can develop into cancer. In a healthy organism the immune system kills off these cells before they can spread and become a problem.
Improving immune system function reduces the likelihood of cancer. One study found that one forest bathing experience increases the amount of Natural Killer cells by 15-20%. These are a type of immune cells critical in the immune response. If we consider this implies a 15% improvement of immune system response (a gross oversimplification but we are limited by the data) and that cancers on average reduce lifespan by 5 years, then you get 273 extra days of life through nature exposure.
Subtotal for me up to now: 2207 days
5. Stress and anxiety
This one is the most obvious when it comes to exposure to nature. We all fell more calm and relaxed when we are in nature, versus a busy city street. Usually we dismiss stress as a psychological only condition that has no bearing on our health.
This is wrong.
Stress is a critical factor in health. It has a non-negligible effect on cardiovascular disease, diabetes, metabolic syndrome, digestive disorders, bone health, autoimmune conditions, cancer, sexual dysfunctions, immune system, memory deficiency. It even accelerates aging as measured at a cellular level. If you want to dive deeper, I highly recommend Robert Sapolsky’s excellent Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers.
Can we quantify the overall effect of stress on lifespan? It’s incredibly difficult. One study attempted to do this and arrived at 2.8 years lost due to heavy stress. I don’t know if this is correct or not. We lack both the data and the statistical tools to make a good estimation. My gut feeling is that the impact is much higher. But for our calculation let’s consider 2.8 years.
What is the effect of nature on stress? How much does it reduce stress? There are various studies that arrive at different figures. Unlike blood pressure, stress can be measured in different ways and many studies are correlational, so they cannot determine causation.
The research I find most relevant is a study done on people suffering from incurable cancer. These people suffer from terrible anxiety as they know they will die and suffer doing so. A study done by NHS evaluated the impact of exposure to nature in reducing anxiety for these patients. The results were incredible. They found a 80% decrease in anxiety for people suffering from incurable cancer from a simple walk in a forest.
If we apply the figure from the cancer study to the estimation of 2.8 years lost from stress we get an additional 818 days of life.
Subtotal for me up to now: 3025 days
The last factor I took into account in my calculation is the one that seems least scientific. It’s called grounding. What is grounding? It is being in direct electrical contact with the Earth. It’s what they do for some electrical systems to divert any surcharges.
In this case, grounding is the contact of the human body with the Earth. The idea might sound as unscientific mumbo-jumbo. I dismissed it out of hand when I first found out about the notion. But as different information got me to revisit it, I realized it might not be bullshit.
Your body has an electromagnetic field. The Earth has a (much larger) electromagnetic field. When they are put into contact, there is a flow from electrons between them. Your own electric charge is adjusted from this interaction. Many cellular processes are done through electric impulses. Not to mention the whole functioning of the brain. So your electric charge matters.
In a city, you are electrically isolated from the ground. Asphalt and concrete are very effective electric isolators. Living at height puts multiple layers of isolation. Even your shoes isolate you as they are made out of various rubbers and plastics.
When you put bare feet on the ground, you establish a direct electrical contact. The body’s electric charge, as measured through simple electric measurement tools, varies significant depending on your contact with the ground: bare feet is different than shoes, different than standing on concrete, different than standing on the 5th floor.
Does this affect health? So far, it is not conclusive. The evolutionary data persuaded me there is something to the idea of grounding. We evolved to spend all of our time with bare feet on the ground, so in direct electrical contact with the earth. The soles of the feet are the most electrically conductive part of the body. This seems like a product of natural selection, rather than random chance.
These clues indicate to me that there is a risk in subjecting our bodies to a completely new condition: from 100% in electrical contact with the Earth to 0% electrical contact (as concrete and shoes isolate us all the time).
There is also scientific research finding measureable benefits to grounding, or earthing as it is called. This study found lower cortisol (stress hormone) and reduced pain and sleep dysfunction from grounding during sleep. This study found that it improves cardiovascular health. This study found it reduces inflammation. This study found it regulates the endocrine and nervous systems. This study found evidence of earthing affecting the activity of the brain.
Ground improves health. By how much? I think we are far from having enough data to determine. In my calculation I put one year because the effects are so widespread, but the magnitude is uncertain.
Total for me: 3390 days
This is 9.3 years. But that would be across an entire lifespan. I am already 35 years old and I have spent the first 34 years in the city. So I consider I might get only 7.8 years of benefit.
How much longer would you live if you moved in nature now?
You can calculate it right now:
Traffic: calculate your daily commute in minutes both ways, multiply it by 262 (average number of working days in a year) times the number of years you will continue working. For simplicity consider the retirement age in your country minus your current age.
Air pollution: look up years lost in your country in the table and adjust based on the relative pollution in your locality versus rest of the country
Heart disease: 109 days
Immune system – cancer: 273 days
Stress: 818 days
Grounding: 365 days
Current age: if under 20, put in the whole amount. If 20-30: reduce one year. If 30-50: decrease two years. If 50-60: decrease 3 years. If over 60: decrease 4 years.
Add it all up. The result will be over 5 years if you live in a big city. What are you willing to do for these extra years of life? Are you willing to solve the logistical and emotional difficulties of moving to the countryside? How much is your life worth to you?
If you like this, subscribe to my newsletter to get more in your inbox.
The Better Normal newsletter brings you strategies and tools to optimize for your Paleolithic biology.
Every Friday, you get an email with one to three tactics to explain and solve a problem of modern life.
No Spam. No Fluff