Brian Viner: Methuselah of the meadows

Related Topics

Moving to the countryside helps people live longer, according to figures released this week by the Office for National Statistics, although I can't help feeling that as someone who moved from London to Herefordshire in 2002, and therefore fits the research profile perfectly, I am making myself a hostage to bucolic fortune by writing this column.

If, before my 50th birthday, I should be stamped to death by a rampaging bullock, or mown down by a runaway combine harvester, then I intend, as an act of eternal revenge, to haunt the Office for National Statistics (conveniently just an hour away by train, in Newport, south Wales) with a ghostly scythe. And, come to think of it, if longevity is such a sure thing out here among the cowpats, then why is the Grim Reaper a yokel?

Nevertheless, it's true, apparently. Men in rural areas on average live until 78, two years longer than their urban counterparts, while women in the countryside can expect to see 82 candles on their birthday cakes (and, moreover, will still have the puff to blow them out, what with there being so much less pollution). That's almost 18 months more breathing than women in the city. Poor people, too, fare better in the country, where their life expectancy is almost three years closer to that of better-off folk than it is in the cities.

This is not, it has to be said, the most startling set of findings. If fresh research were put before us to show a strong likelihood that Pope Benedict XVI is, in fact, Catholic, it would not be very much less surprising than the news that rural life is, in general, better for the health than urban life. Is it, though, better for the soul?

Living in the country might offer more quantity, but does it yield more quality? That is a debate which will rage on and, very broadly speaking, you take your side of the fence according to which matters more: the proximity of fields and woods, or the proximity of a skinny soya decaff latte outlet. Speaking of which, on a recent visit to the city, my wife went for a coffee with one of her most metropolitan friends, a BBC television presenter, who on taking a sip frowned and said, "This can't be what I ordered, it tastes too nice." But that's another story.

As for this story, there is plenty of anecdotal evidence to confound the stats. My own mother, who lives in London, is in rude health at the age of 85, and I dare say would not be nearly so spry if she didn't spend so much of her time going to concerts and galleries. She would probably wither both intellectually and physically if she lived in the country. On the other hand, she wouldn't want for contemporaries.

Data just collected by the Commission for Rural Communities show that there are three rural areas where the over-85s make up more than five per cent of the population; indeed if Methuselah lived in Porlock, Somerset, he'd be the paper boy. Remarkably, more than 40 per cent of people there are of pensionable age, which might or might not be down to the famous 1:4 gradient on Porlock Hill, but it does seem likely that, my mum's example notwithstanding, long life in the country is enhanced by the need to be more physically active.

This need, I should add, has been reinforced in recent years by our politicians and civil servants. If anyone deserves the credit for life expectancy in the sticks being greater than in cities, it is they, for by decimating rural post offices and ensuring that buses along many country lanes are sighted about as frequently as the Beast of Bodmin, they have got the over-70s walking like never before. Now they just need to nail those cities.

Brian Viner's "Tales of the Country", chronicling his post-London life in Herefordshire, is published by Simon & Schuster at £7.99

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Project Implementation Executive

£18000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Chiropractic Assistant

£16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Chiropractic Assistant is needed in a ...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive - Midlands

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides coaching ...

Day In a Page

Read Next

Errors & Omissions: how to spell BBQ and other linguistic irregularities

Guy Keleny

South Africa's race problem is less between black and white than between poor blacks and immigrants from sub-Saharan Africa

John Carlin
NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

Beige to the future

Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own