Steal These Tips from the Healthiest People in America
Published on October 9, 2017
Last updated January 31, 2021
New York and L.A. might be the places to find the trendiest boutique workouts and hottest superfoods—but when it comes to living a healthy lifestyle, other cities edge them out, according to the most recent Gallup-Healthways Community Well-Being Rankings.
This report takes into account five aspects of well-being—a sense of purpose, social health, financial health, community, and physical health—and ranks the top communities in the U.S. The top three: Naples, FL; Barnstable Town, MA; and Santa Cruz, CA.
But even if your town didn’t rank in the top 10, you can still reap the benefits the locals in these wellness meccas already know. We asked residents—including professional athletes, a yoga instructor, registered dietitians, a cookbook author, and local business owners—in the top 10 towns to share the simple things they incorporate into their everyday lives to stay happy and feel good.
1. Naples-Immokalee-Marco Island, FL: Make Yoga a Community Event
The stunning photos of beach asanas in yoga instructor Josey Prior’s Instagram feed will make you want to hop a plane Naples, ASAP. “One of the best parts about living in Naples is all the yoga we have,” she says. “I teach and practice at Yoga Loft Naples and the energy and community that we have is amazing. There are also so many outdoor and charity yoga classes going on each week—beach yoga, paddleboard yoga, family yoga classes, and yoga classes to benefit local organizations, such as the women’s shelter and animal rescues. My own personal yoga practice has helped me through PTSD and bipolar depression. The combination of exercise, meditation, and community that yoga brings has been the key to my happiness and health.”
Make it work for you: Visit the Yoga Health Foundation to find charitable and other community yoga events near you.
2. Barnstable Town, MA: Show Some Local Love
As part of Cape Cod, Barnstable gets plenty of tourists, but for Jen Villa, happiness is all about being a local. She owns The Little Beach Gallery, which sells works by local artists; she’s co-owner of The Local Juice, a juice bar and health food shop; she cofounded the new restaurant The West End; and she co-runs Love Live Local, a website about life and events on the Cape that encourages supporting local businesses. “Every day I choose to be mindful with my actions—how they affect myself, my community, and the planet,” says Villa. “I eat, drink, and shop locally to support my own health and the health of my local economy. I also make sure to soak up a good dose of the salty air and ocean views every day.”
Make it work for you: Shop locally as much as possible. Buy gifts and clothes at mom-and-pop stores, and pick up produce at a nearby farmers market.
3. Santa Cruz-Watsonville, CA: Get into a Staycation Mindset
Daily life in Santa Cruz seems pretty idyllic for cooking teacher Andrea Nguyen, author of The Pho Cookbook. But Nguyen didn’t just luck into her lifestyle: She deliberately set up her life to match her wellness priorities. “I’m blessed with a flexible schedule so when I get up in the morning, I try to get a gulp of fresh air first and foremost,” says Nguyen. “This summer, it means a quick walk through our small backyard to see what’s up in the garden beds. It’s an opportunity to wake up your senses and feel grateful.” Next Nguyen spends an hour practicing yoga and meditation before she starts her work day. “Nearly every afternoon we walk to buy ingredients for dinner, check in with neighbors and/or one of the friendly cats in the ‘hood,” she says. She and her husband also have easy access to a number of farmers markets, a redwood forest, and the beach.
Make it work for you: Incorporate things you normally reserve for vacation—like taking a stroll with your loved ones or visiting a farmstand—into daily life. And if you’re buying a new home, put yourself in proximity to the things that make you happy as much as possible.
4. Urban Honolulu, Hawaii: Connect with Nature Every Day
“I try to jump in the ocean at least once a day no matter how busy I am,” says Honolulu-based pro surfer and spearfisher Mark Healey, founder of Healey Water Ops, a company that organizes water activities. “It’s amazing how even jumping in for 30 seconds brings me back to life. I see it as a way to reconnect with something real—a little reminder that all the thoughts taking up space in my consciousness about the future and the past have nothing to do with the present.”
Make it work for you: You might not live near the ocean, but chances are that you have access to nature in some form—even if it’s just a favorite tree in your yard or nearby park. Stop there for a moment every day and connect with the present moment.
5. Charlottesville, Virginia: Walk Every Day
Kath Younger, a blogger and registered dietician based in Charlottesville, VA, writes about “a healthy mix of real-life meals made from whole ingredients balanced with the pleasures of life, including buttercream frosting and good wine.” In addition to her balanced approach to food, Younger stays healthy by moving even when she’s not formally exercising. “I walk or bike as much as I can around my town,” she says. “I live near downtown Charlottesville, so I walk to the bank, to take my son to school, sometimes to my gym. This is not only great exercise but great for the environment as well. And I save money on gas.”
Make it work for you: Take a walk every day, whether for exercise or just to run errands.
6. North Port-Sarasota-Bradenton, FL: Enjoy Exercise
Making exercise fun is key to sticking with it, and for Kim Livengood of the Eclipse Agency, a boutique public relations firm in Sarasota, that means running. “I started running three years ago with Fleet Feet’s couch to 5K training program and never stopped,” says Livengood, who now races half marathons. Even during training, Livengood will pause during a run to enjoy the sunrise or enjoy her neighborhood. “There’s a house that puts a bubble machine out every day,” she says. ” It always brings a smile to my face.”
Make it work for you: Sample different types of exercise until you find one (or a few) that you love, so it never feels like a chore.
7. San Luis Obispo-Paso Robles, CA: Give Yourself Some Indulgences
Jennifer Hoage grew up in Louisiana before settling in Paso Robles, California, where she and her husband, Terry, own and run TH Estate Wines. Her personal food approach combines California’s healthy eating habits with Louisiana laissez les bons temps rouler approach—with a winemaker’s spirit thrown in. “Growing up in Louisiana, food is very important,” says Hoage. “Life is all about the next meal. Living in California, it is all about what food you eat. I would say I am a hybrid, because I do believe it is okay to indulge every once in awhile, but indulge like the French, in small portions.”
Make it work for you: Allow yourself to have that glass of wine or piece of cake every now and then and enjoy it! And cut yourself some slack if every day is not the perfect day.
8. Lynchburg, VA: Get Outside
“I’ve always been the most happy when outside or in the water,” says Alex Johnston, founder of the consultancy group Cities Reimagined, which works with city leaders to reduce poverty and foster economic growth. “Living in Lynchburg, Virginia, affords me so many great opportunities to be outside, whether it’s enjoying the Blue Ridge Mountains, the James River, or even downtown Lynchburg’s many hills, a.k.a. the Hill City.”
Make it work for you: No matter what your workout of choice is, make it a priority to do it outside at least some of the time.
9. Hilton Head Island-Bluffton-Beaufort, SC: Finish Meals with a Walk
Felicia Spence, a registered dietician at the Hilton Head Health resort, swears by “a thermal walk after my meals to aid with digestion and to keep moving throughout the day.” Never heard of a thermal walk? “Thermal walks are a 20-minute, leisurely paced walk either just before or after a meal,” she explains. “The name comes from the scientific ‘thermal effect’ that occurs when you eat—your body’s metabolism increases to digest the food. Adding a light activity increases metabolism a little more, and for a little longer. It also has a behavioral benefit because the healthy habit of walking is tied to a normal frequent habit, eating a meal. We encourage thermal walks for guests in our program after all three main meals. This alone provides them with about three miles of activity.”
Make it work for you: Get up and get moving after meals, whether it’s on the beach, around the block, or even around your office building.
10. Boulder, Colorado: Do Something for Yourself Daily
“Every day I run and train toward an overall goal that I am trying to achieve,” says Boulder-based pro runner Kara Goucher. “Taking time for myself every day is important to make me feel like I am working toward something for myself.” After she’s taken care of her training, Goucher turns her attention to her family: “The rest of my day is dedicated to my family: Cooking meals, helping my son with school work, etc.,” she says. “We love to round out the day by walking our dog as a family after dinner. We love that 30 minutes we share together, walking and talking about our days.”
Make it work for you: Take some time for yourself daily, no matter how busy you are, even if it’s just a few minutes. Bonus: Working toward your own goals and happiness will likely put you in a better mood for your family, friends and coworkers.