The choice to lead a healthy life is an individual one, and a decision which relies solely on a personal desire for vitality. It requires that an individual have strong will power and even stronger resolve, especially in the United States, where fast food joints and comfortable couches are nearly never out of sight. But while living a healthy lifestyle demands nothing more than a deliberate personal decision to live better, some places accommodate the human body and mind better than others.
As the editor of TIME’s newest book, Healthiest Places To Live: Lessons from the Top Spots for Fitness, Nutrition, and Aging Well, and managing editor of Scientific American Mind Magazine, Claudia Wallis is what we would consider an expert in health and wellness. Her list of the healthiest places in the United States draws on scientific research, statistics, and publicly available information regarding the lengths a given city has gone to provide healthy living for its citizens.
Below are 10 of the healthiest places to live in the United States, according to Wallis:
San Francisco Bay Area, California
At the forefront of the farm-to-table movement, the San Francisco Bay Area is easily one of the healthiest places to live in the country. Here, one can enjoy numerous health benefits such as community parks, weekly farmer's markets, and the pleasure of commuting by foot. With a growing season that spans the entire year and a fruitful bounty of regional produce, eating locally grown foods is a natural facet of life in the city by the bay. Perhaps it is because of San Francisco's easily accessible assortment of healthy foods that "46% of bay area adults manage to maintain a healthy weight, compared with only 30% nationally," as TIME highlights.
The culture and lifestyle of Honolulu, Hawaii is liable to encourage exercise, adventure, and happiness, and it isn't hard to understand why. With a combination of sunshine and aloha spirit, Honolulu has tapped into the health benefits of coupling mental wellness with physical wellness. Whether going for a swim in the crystal blue water, hiking through the humid jungle, or simply meditating atop a lush mountain peak, island lifestyle does not allow for unhealthiness. Honolulu's low rates of uninsured residents and preventable hospital stays are a few of the reasons this city is constantly placed among the healthiest cities to live in the country time and time again. Moreover, the Hawaiian mantra, "think and emote good feelings," has proved to secure a healthy feeling of happiness and acceptance in all who call Honolulu home.
Silicon Valley, California
When thinking about health, the workplace is usually the last entity that comes to mind. Nonetheless, nearly all of us must work. That being said, the Silicon Valley offers some of the healthiest work environments imaginable, providing flexible hours and a surfeit of workplace benefits to keep laborers - if you can call them that - happy. Forward thinking companies seem to follow suit with forward thinking workplaces, such as Google, whose offices include slides, sleeping pods, and gyms. In Wallis' book, she quotes Donna Morris, vice president at Adobe in Silicon Valley, who elaborates on the idea of the healthy, ergonomically designed workplace:
"If manufacturing was the most important thing for us, we'd want to make sure that we had the best machines. Because it's minds, people have to be physically healthy, they have to be emotionally healthy and they have to be financially well. Because if one of those is out, it's likely to impact their productivity, their performance and their engagement. At the end of the day, they are our assembly lines."
"According to 2011 data from the National Survey of Children's Health, a multifaceted measure of childhood wellness and healthy habits ... 90.2% of Vermont's children are in excellent or very good health, compared with a national average of 84.2%," TIME writes in Healthiest Places To Live: Lessons from the Top Spots for Fitness, Nutrition, and Aging Well. Aside from these statistics, Wallis suggests Burlington, Vermont, as one of the healthiest places to raise a healthy kid because of the city's high graduation rates, well-maintained parks and bike trails, and kids in the kitchen program which teaches the young to gather, prepare, and cook locally grown foods.
Minneapolis and St.Paul, Minnesota
Wallis nominates Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minnesota, as two of the best cities in the United States for aging well. When a region boasts both healthy citizens and a healthy economy, it's no wonder that it is listed as one of the finest areas for health and wellness in the county. Another factor that contributes to the Twin Cities healthy allure, are their proximity to the Mayo Clinic, ranked by the U.S. News & World Report as the nations top medical center. The book explains that in "2013 the United Health Foundation ranked Minnesota as the healthiest state for seniors."
Denver and Boulder, Colorado
When your backyard is a 14,439ft mountain range, you're bound to be exposed to some form of vigorous exercise everyday. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, Colorado ranked first for percentage of adults (61.9 percent) who participated in physical activity, whether that be climbing, hiking, hunting, etc. Synonymous with these statistics, TIME's latest book provides the results of a 2012 CDC study which shows that "at 20.5%, Colorado has the lowest percentage of obese residents of any state in the U.S."
The old style town of Plano, Texas, can teach us a lot about crime prevention. With a police department that requires officers have a four-year degree, Plano understands the value of knowledge when it comes to diverting criminals. With some of the lowest crime rates and highest paid police officers in the country, Plano, Texas, seems to have discovered an effective formula for keeping its citizens safe, resulting in TIME naming the city the best place in America for safety in their book.
Surrounded by trees and tucked into the hills, Portland, Oregon, makes it into TIME's book as one of the healthiest environments to live in the country. The city government is known to focus its efforts on renewable resources and sustainable living, which is why this northern metropolitan area boasts some of the most progressive global warming policies in the United States. With over 300 miles of bike paths, numerous hiking trails, and what they call "20 minute neighborhoods," where every necessity - schools, shops, parks, public transit, etc. - can be bought or found within a twenty minute walking radius, the citizens of Portland enjoy a way of life much healthier - for both themselves and the planet - than most of us are used to.
With the highest life expectancy rates in the country, TIME names Boston, Massachusetts, the best place to live in the United States for health care. It must also be mentioned that Boston's healthcare is among the most affordable, making sure that citizens from all demographics have the ability to access professional medical care. As TIME includes in the book, "According to the 2013 rankings by U.S. News and World Report, Boston is the only place in the nation with two of the top 10 U.S. cancer centers and two for the top 10 hospitals for treating heart disease.”
Provo and Orem, Utah
With the most concentrated population of Mormon followers in the country, Provo and Orem, Utah, greatly emphasize the importance of charity, volunteer service, and religion. Content with their practically ubiquitous beliefs, the citizens of Provo and Orem have been proven to be at a lower risk of contracting disease as they lead happy, healthy, spiritual lives. TIME names these cities the best in the country for spiritual living. However, if your beliefs differ from that of the local population, you may disagree.
Did your city make the cut? What others would you add to Wallis' top ten healthiest places in the United States?