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Can a balanced immune system help you better cope with life in a stressful city?

Posted Sep 15 2009 8:57pm

The Forbes rankings for “America’s Most Stressful Cities” are out again this fall. Leading the way again in 2009 is Chicago, a repeat winner from last year. Number 5 on the list is…not Philadelphia, not Detroit, not Washington D.C….but Providence, RI! Wow. How could a bucolic New England coastal town nestled on a bay, within a dinghy’s sail of Nantucket Sound and Cape Cod be the 5th most stressful city in America in which to live? According to Forbes, Providence “ranks as the fifth worst city for employment, with the unemployment rate up to 12.1% in June. It ranks tenth for cost of living and thirteenth for population density at 975 people per square mile.”

Forbes also trots out this description on stressful living and health: “Other cities have different reasons for stress: Pittsburgh comes in second for the least amount of sunny days, and ninth for low air quality. While for years we’ve been told to avoid certain skin cancers by staying out of the sun, new research showed a link between low vitamin D levels and increased propensity to the common cold. It’s also believed that vitamin D receptors in cells and tissue may help regulate the immune system. Irritants in the atmosphere can cause increased incidences of asthma, chest tightness or cough.”

Beyond the Forbes piece, an excellent overview of stress and the immune system by the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center gives a great holistic view of how lifestyle stressors–emotional, mental pressures–impact immune response (Pittsburgh, by the way, is #29 on the Forbes list). To quotes from this UPMC piece:

“When you must respond to stress, you experience reactions in the body that may lead to illness, including elevated blood pressure and decreased function of the immune system. This continuous circuit of thought, emotion, and body response may be harmful in many ways.

For example, if you think, “If my boss gives me one more thing to do” or “If that person says one more stupid thing,” and that thought causes anger or frustration, you are stressing your body’s systems. Even thoughts associated with positive events like “I have so much to do to get ready for the wedding,” can create annoyance or dissatisfaction that can ultimately harm your health.”

See the Forbes story with links to more individual city data here.

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