4 Ways City Living Makes You Fit

Just about half of us live in a city these days, and that number keeps going up, according to a United Nations report released earlier this year. Crammed into tiny apartments and even tinier cubicles, cities often leave us feeling like we barely have room to stretch our legs. But the reality is that urbanities tend to walk 15 to 30 minutes more each day than their suburban counterparts. And that's just one of the reasons city living can actually be much healthier than life out in the 'burbs. Big cities are walkable, full of people and bursting with culture--all factors that studies have linked to physical health.

Does this mean that if you become an urbanite you'll automatically start shedding the pounds? Not exactly, but it does mean that ways to up your health and reduce your weight are at your doorstep. Here are four ways to make those big-city streets your own personal trainer:

1. Walk the Walk: We already know that city dwellers tend to walk more than their suburban counterparts. But you'd be surprised at how much those extra 15 to 30 minutes of walking can do for your figure. The extra urban steps burn about 3,000 to 6,000 extra calories a year--enough to help offset the one to two pounds that the average American now adds to their girth each year. So ditch the cab and keep walking off those pounds. To get the most out of this city advantage, you can't just take leisurely strolls. You'll be burning calories much faster if you take the city by speed. Walking one mile at 5mph, which takes about 12 minutes, nearly doubles the calories you would burn walking at 3.5mph.

2. Get Arty: Studies show that more culture and greater mental stimulation are linked to better health and longevity. And an abundance of cultural attractions is something most cities specialize in. So if you're an urbanite, forego the pricy bar and club scene, and choose from one of the countless museums, theatres, art galleries and historical sites. Your brain will thank you for it.

3. Meet the Neighbors: A large body of research has tied strong social networks to a myriad of health benefits, such as a lower susceptibility to the common cold and a lower risk for heart disease. Whether you want to talk to yoga fanatics, "Star Trek" enthusiasts or just hang out with fellow apartment dwellers, a big city is a great place to find people you identify with. Sheer numbers make it more likely you'll find someone who shares your interests. So go out, make some friends and make a toast to your collective health.

4. Fresh and Fit: Urbanites are often ahead of the curve when it comes to demanding fresh, healthy foods. From Los Angeles to New York, you're sure to find a nearby farmers' market bursting with farm-fresh produce. Trendy health-food stores and sushi joints show up first in the big city, then trickle down to the suburbs. And those healthier options tend to infiltrate some of the less-than-healthy eateries, as well; some delis and pizza joints, for example, offer whole-wheat pizza pies and multigrain subs. So even if your city hasn't banned trans fats quite yet, healthy choices are probably more bountiful than they are in the 'burbs. Just remember to take advantage of them--even if that $2 hot dog seems awfully tempting.

Click here for last week's By the Numbers: "Why You Need a Nap, and 7 Ways to Get It."