The debate about the health risks of living in high-rise buildings has been going on since the first skyscrapers were built in the late 1800s, and it continues today despite significant improvements to modern structures over the dark, dank edifices of yesteryear. But not everyone agrees high-rise living is harmful.

High floors, low floors: The great debate

In the article “Health and high-rise living: Is higher healthier?” on, author Cait Etherington mentioned a survey of recent studies shows that the risks of living on higher versus lower floors include slower emergency response times, social isolation and depression. The article also pointed to a Canadian Medical Association Journal study published in early 2016 that showed one’s chances of surviving a cardiac arrest were dramatically decreased by living on higher floors – 0.9% survival rate above the 16th floor and no survivors above the 25th floor in 7,842 cases of out-of-hospital cardiac arrest involved in the study.

Studies have shown there to be an upside and downside to living on the upper floors of a high-rise building.

On the flip side, a 2013 study published in the European Journal of Epidemiology cited in the article found a significant decline in the mortality rate from cardiovascular and respiratory diseases the higher one’s floor of residence. Several other studies have suggested this decline is the result of less exposure to high levels of exhaust from parking garages and street-level traffic when living on upper-level floors.

Money may be a factor

Some researchers believe the relationship between better health and living on high-level floors may be due to one’s wealth rather than environmental factors. The researchers note that in many European and North American cities, living on a higher floor is seen as more prestigious, which means those living there are more likely to have more money and better access to high-quality healthcare.

The article noted many new high-rise buildings are focusing on healthy living, incorporating innovations such as green roofs with lots of plants and “breathable” buildings.

How you can help clients

If you have clients who, like many baby boomers are considering moving to more urban areas, Etherington suggested they keep several things in mind if they opt for high-rise living:

  • Look for a smoke-free building.
  • Do they need an elevator? Walk-ups not only are more affordable, but living in a walk-up can have health benefits over time.
  • Consider the building’s age and maintenance history.

Source: “Health and high-rise living: Is higher healthier?”, (Jan. 24, 2017)