Moving to the suburbs can be a real toss-up when it comes to living a healthy lifestyle. On one hand, you probably have access to clean sidewalks, big parks, and more room to wander, which is very helpful when you’re trying to squeeze in exercise around your work and family life.
On the other hand, some suburbs are a lot more “walkable” than others, and it’s not always as easy to sneak in “extra” movement like walking to the store or the bus stop or train station. Things in the suburbs are more spread out than in the city.
So when you’re getting ready to buy a home in the suburbs — and you know you’re trying to implement or maintain a healthy lifestyle — then it makes sense to consider the home itself as part and parcel of your lifestyle.
What does a “healthy” suburban home look like? Here are some ways you can find the perfect healthy home for you.
Seek out opportunities to move more
If you’ve been living in the suburbs, then the increased amount of time you’ll likely be spending in your car won’t surprise you. But if you’re moving from an urban environment, then you’ll need to recognize that there just aren’t as many opportunities to exercise while running errands in the suburbs.
There is one big advantage that suburb-dwellers have over people in more urban areas when it comes to exercise: Neighborhoods are laid out to accommodate traffic patterns and more for living, so taking a quick walk around your area is often more pleasant and actionable in the suburbs than it is in the city. But you’ll need to make a conscious effort to take those strolls because you’re not cramming in steps while walking to and from the corner store or the subway.
See if you can find a home in a place that’s on the walkable side, with stores or restaurants or public transportation hubs within walking distance. Be realistic about how far you’re willing to walk. You might think that 20 or 30 minutes to and from the train station is no big deal, but if you only make that walk twice before opting to drive, then you didn’t do yourself any favors by finding a spot “close” to the train station.
Also spend some time locating nearby parks or hiking trailheads, and do some research into which recreational facilities exist in the suburbs where you’re considering buying. It’s true that the biggest concentrations of climbing gyms and yoga studios are in city centers, but those activities are becoming popular enough that they’re popping up in suburbs, too. The local recreation center may have a pool and a weight room, and they’re also might be athletic clubs, tennis organizations, or other options when it comes to keeping your body moving.
If your suburb is in close proximity to a big city, remember that most urban areas also often opportunities for adults to join sports leagues. You might even find a branch league in your neighborhood. So if team sports sounds like fun, convince a friend to join with you.
Consider the air and water quality
You might not be living in the middle of an urban area, but air quality and water quality are still important considerations when you’re thinking about buying a home somewhere. You should plan on being there for years (if not a full decade), and especially if you or someone in your household has any current health issues that might be aggravated, it’s better to be safe than sorry.
It’s wise to read up on water and air quality standards and testing in your area. Then you can decide whether it would be smart to purchase an air purifier for your home, a filter for your water system, or other items that will help you live a (literally) cleaner lifestyle.
Be aware: Walking, running, or hiking outside when air quality is poor might be detrimental to your health even though you’re getting exercise. Sometimes air quality is generally fine in an area, but wildfires and other natural events can create temporary problems even in rural areas, so don’t consider it a closed deal — keep tabs on the news and an eye out for haze so that you can take your workouts inside if air quality becomes poor.
The Environmental Protection Agency has ZIP-code-level information about air quality, water quality, known contaminants, and other environmental health factors that will be important if you’re considering buying a home in that ZIP.
Light it up to shut it down
Getting good sleep is critical to staying healthy, and natural light is closely tied to our ability to get plenty of quality sleep. A lack of natural light has also been tied to factors like depression. Take an inventory of the sunlight that spills into your home-to-be (or homes-to-be) and figures out how you can maximize its effects. Placing mirrors to catch the light will magnify it and bounce it around your apartment, and if you’re able to place your bed facing an Eastern window, then you’ll get the advantage of some direct light to wake you up in the morning, too.
You might want to ask a real estate agent or another local expert about any “dark” pockets of the suburb. This isn’t usually a big problem in areas where the land is relatively flat, but if there are hills or mountains, then the sun could cast shadows on your home during different times of the year or times of the day. If you’re buying a place that’s likely to be in a deep shadow for two or three months out of the year, then that’s something you might want to know upfront so it doesn’t take you by surprise.
It’s almost never easy to fall asleep in a new environment, but hopefully, you know by now what environments generate your “best” sleep and what wakes you up in the middle of the night. If you can’t abide lights flashing and your window faces a street that sees a lot of traffic, then consider heavy curtains that will block the light at night. If your home is close to a highway or there’s another nearby facility that’s likely to make noise throughout the night, then invest in a white noise machine and some earplugs to fall asleep.
Conversely, sometimes people who have lived in cities for a long time might have trouble falling asleep without the background noise around them. There are “white noise” phone apps that can create traffic and crowd sounds if that’s what helps you sleep and even platforms that will tell you a nonsensical bedtime story to help lull you to sleep. Whatever you use, try to get at least eight full hours of sleep a night to maximize your health.
One advantage of living in a suburban area is the relative lack of unhealthy-food temptation. Sure, there might be a dessert bar or a bakery in the area, but unless you live a five-minute walk from both of them, it’s easier to avoid those scattered spots in a suburb.
Most homes in the suburbs also come equipped with bigger kitchens than you’ll find in cities and plenty of grocery stores, which can be a huge asset when you’re trying to eat more reasonably. It’s very difficult to maintain a healthy lifestyle and weight when you eat out for every meal, so if you have the ability (and time) to cook, that’s hugely important.
Let’s face it, though: Oftentimes people who live in suburbs have full households with families, pets, and active lives outside of staying healthy. Ordering pizza is still a tempting way to solve the dinnertime problem, so it’s important to identify some alternative options that don’t take a ton of time, cost a lot of money, and that still satisfy your taste buds.
Identify some healthy pick-up items at the grocery store, whether it’s a bag of salad with some grilled protein for dinner or fruit salads for breakfast. If you know that you can find something quick and nutritious, that makes your last-minute dinnertime emergencies much easier to handle.
If you’re not all that interested in cooking, that’s fine; there are plenty of ready-made fresh foods you can find at the grocery store (though they’re more expensive than cooking yourself — but less expensive than eating out). But it might not hurt to buy a couple of entry-level cookbooks and see what you can do. With countertop grills and multi-function cookers available, cooking for yourself has never been easier or more convenient once you get started.
Pests are bad enough (and if you’re in a condo, apartment, or duplex situation, then you might have to deal with them despite all your best efforts), but mold can be even worse, and elements like radon and carbon monoxide are also not to be trifled with.
A little bit of mold in a home that you’re considering buying is not something to ignore. Make sure to ask any inspectors examining homes on your shortlist about the presence of mold or whether there are any indications of past issues.
Inspectors can also test for radon, which is usually found below the ground, so if your home has a basement, it’s probably worth the extra money just to be sure you’re safe — especially if you’re planning on spending time in that basement as a recreation room or to turn it into guest quarters. Your inspector should also test the smoke alarms in your house, and it’s always a good idea to supplement those with carbon monoxide detectors and set regular reminders to change the batteries to keep you and your household safe and protected.
Buy healthier appliances and equipment
If you need to think about getting a new washer and dryer when you move in, then consider purchasing a washing machine unit with steam and extra-hot-water options — you’ll be able to kill germs and bacteria in your sheets after being up all night sick, and if you have kids, the ability to steam-wash items is a no-brainer.
Your dishwasher should also be in good working order (if you have one), eliminating any lingering germs on your plates and silverware.
And if you’re lucky enough to have any extra space in your home, consider turning a corner or area into a workout zone. A yoga mat, some weights, and an app might be all you need to start living a healthier lifestyle. If your living room or home office is big enough, you can tuck some or all of the equipment you need away in a corner and then use your television or computer to stream a workout program of your choice.