Could Rural Living Be Better For Your Gut? How Built Environments Influence Your Health

rural living

When you think about gut health, geography may not be the first thing on your mind. However, it is a significant factor in your gut health.

Our local environment and its level of urbanization can impact gut health - which may leave you wondering, what exactly is influencing my gut microbiome, and what lifestyle habits can help me optimize my gut health no matter where I live?

Environmental Influence on Gut Health

The gut microbiome is made up of trillions of microorganisms that line the intestinal tract. A healthy microbiome helps protect your body against invading bacteria, supports immune function, extracts nutrients, and maintains a healthy metabolism.

Geography influences the composition of the gut microbiome in two major ways: urbanization and regional diet patterns.


Urbanization can be defined as the process of developing cities by increasing the population of people who live in relatively dense areas. Cities can benefit health through improved economics, availability of health services, and higher quality of water and sanitation.

On the other hand, urbanization negatively impacts the diversity of microbes in the environment and your gut. City development destroys or breaks up the natural habitats of many plant, animal, and microbial species. As a result, studies find that urban areas have a lower abundance of microorganisms in the air and soil compared to rural areas.1

The loss of environmental biodiversity is linked to the loss of microbial diversity in humans, which in turn increases the risk of infectious and chronic diseases.2

Studies suggest that decreased gut microbe diversity can significantly impact your digestive health and disrupt your body’s natural defenses.3

Regional Diet Composition

Diets around the world are influenced by global food markets but are significantly shaped by locally available and culturally significant foods.

As a result, the composition of our gut bacteria changes to match what we eat. Different species of bacteria can be present in greater concentrations for certain regions depending on whether the majority diet is rich in fiber or rich in animal protein and saturated fats.4

Optimizing Your Gut Health in Your Environment

No matter whether you live in a densely-packed metropolis or a small rural town, there are ways that you can optimize your gut health.

Spend More Time in Nature

Even if you live in a busy city, your gut can still benefit from being outdoors. A recent study found that children who participated in outdoor nature activities had increases in beneficial gut bacteria.5,6

Diversify Your Diet

Eating fiber-filled foods and probiotics can help support the growth of beneficial bacteria and increase the diversity of gut microbes. A high fiber diet has many benefits for metabolism, colon health, and protection against oxidative stress and related health concerns.7

Reduce Tobacco and Alcohol

Alcohol intake reduces the total number and diversity of bacteria in the gut, especially with excess intake.8  Smoking and secondhand smoke exposure change the microbiome in the mouth, lungs, and gut while increasing inflammation.9 Stopping or cutting back on these habits can protect the diversity and resilience of your microbiome.

While your environment can have an impact on your gut health, there are several factors you can control to maintain microbe diversity no matter where you live. 


  1. Flies, E. J., Clarke, L. J., Brook, B. W., & Jones, P. (2020). The Science of the total environment, 738, 140337.

  2. Chen, Y., Martinez, A., Cleavenger, S., Rudolph, J., & Barberán, A. (2021). [Changes in microbial communities in urbanization.] Microorganisms.

  3. Young, H. S., Wood, C. L., Kilpatrick, A. M., Lafferty, K. D., Nunn, C. L., & Vincent, J. R. (2017). Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London. Series B, Biological sciences, 372(1722).

  4. Kriss, M., Hazleton, K. Z., Nusbacher, N. M., Martin, C. G., & Lozupone, C. A. (2018). [Drivers in low gut microbe diversity]. Current opinion in microbiology.

  5. Costea, P. I., Hildebrand, F., Arumugam, M., Bäckhed, F., Blaser, M. J., Bushman, F. D., de Vos, W. M., Ehrlich, S. D., Fraser, C. M., Hattori, M., Huttenhower, C., Jeffery, I. B., Knights, D., Lewis, J. D., Ley, R. E., Ochman, H., O'Toole, P. W., Quince, C., Relman, D. A., Shanahan, F., … Bork, P. (2018).[Gut microbial composition]. Nature microbiology.

  6. Sobko, T., Liang, S., Cheng, W., & Tun, H. M. (2020). [Outdoor nature activities and the gut microbiome]. Scientific reports, 10(1), 21993.

  7. Barber, T. M., Kabisch, S., Pfeiffer, A., & Weickert, M. O. (2020). [Health and dietary fiber]. Nutrients, 12(10), 3209.

  8. Engen, P. A., Green, S. J., Voigt, R. M., Forsyth, C. B., & Keshavarzian, A. (2015). Alcohol research: current reviews, 37(2), 223–236.

  9. Huang, C., & Shi, G. (2019). [Smoking and the oral, airway and gut microbiome]. Journal of translational medicine, 17(1), 225.