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People Live the Longest in These 12 U.S. States. Here’s Why.

March 10, 2023
Image credit: Lindsey Engelken for Clean Plates

The average lifespan of a United States citizen is about 78.8 years, according to a recently published National Vital Statistics Report based on data collected by The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Variables like gender, wealth, and access to high-quality health care all have a huge impact on longevity, but it turns out that your home state plays a large role, too. In fact, the difference between the average life expectancy in the state with the highest lifespans and the lowest lifespans is six and a half years. 

With that big a difference, we think it’s worth exploring the healthy habits common among the states with the highest longevity to see if we can’t take a page or two from their books — even if we’re not neighbors.

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1. They break out the dental floss

Yes, really! Plaque in your teeth is directly related to plaque in your arteries; gum disease and heart disease often go hand in hand. According to a Harvard University report, people with gum disease have a significantly higher risk of stroke, heart attack, or other serious cardiovascular events — possibly two or three times higher. That might sound strange, but think of it this way: The burden of inflammation that occurs from the chronic periodontal disease then becomes carried by your arteries.

Several of the states with the longest-living residents also have the best dental health: Minnesota, Connecticut, Massachusetts, and New Jersey all take spots in both categories. We suspect that this has to do with both healthy oral care habits as well as the presence of fluoridated water.

2. They tend to get a good night’s sleep

Insufficient sleep, which is defined by the CDC as less than seven hours within a 24 hour period, can lead to an increased risk of a host of health problems, including heart attack, diabetes, depression, and arthritis. According to a 2021 report co-authored between the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Wisconsin Population Health Institute, our longest-living states are also some of the highest performers where getting decent shut-eye is concerned: Minnesota, Vermont, and Washington.

3. They swapped out soda

We’re never into body shaming, but we do believe in reporting facts: The top 10 states for life expectancy line up almost perfectly with the bottom 10 states for the percentage of adults who are obese. According to the Department of Health/CDC data, the states with the highest percentages of obese adults were also those with the highest consumption of sugary beverages, specifically soda (or pop, for our beloved Midwesterners).

While the CDCs numbers only suggest a correlation between the two, a report on sugary drinks from the Harvard University T.H. Chan School of Public Health summarizes several studies regarding the effect of sugary drink consumption on various health factors, including obesity, and cites one particularly staggering point that even among adults who were genetically predisposed to becoming obese, they were even more likely to become so due to sugary drink consumption. And soda consumption is more detrimental to one’s health than otherwise healthy eating is beneficial.

Looking at the CDC data, North Carolina, for example, is in the top 20 states for obese adults, and also in the top 10 states for soda intake. They’re also in the top 10 states for vegetable consumption, which we interpret to mean that if you drink too much soda, even vegetables can’t save you.

Three states with the lowest soda consumption also took top spots in longevity: New Jersey, which has the lowest soda consumption in the country, followed by Massachusetts and Hawaii. (Maybe Jersey teens go straight to coffee?)

4. They take a hike (literally!)

With all that beautiful scenery begging to be explored up close, it’s no wonder that the most mountainous states in the country have some of the longest-living citizens. Colorado, California, Vermont, and Washington rank among the states with the highest percentages of adults who achieve at least 150 minutes of moderate, aerobic physical activity every week, but nearly all of the top ten longest-living states share this attribute. Minnesota, a relatively flat state, also demonstrates an equal commitment to exercise, which goes to show that you don’t need mountains in order to move. And some northeastern cities get in on this, too, with Massachusetts and New York ranking highest among places with the most citizens who walk or bike to work.

5. They quit smoking

Cigarette smoking remains the leading cause of preventable disease and death in the United States, according to the CDC, and the numbers certainly bear out this claim. The data shows that in 2020, 13 out of every 100 Americans smoked, a decline from numbers reported in 2019.

Unsurprisingly, eight out of the top 10 states for longevity also have fewer smokers per capita than the national average: California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Vermont, and Washington. (As a matter of interest, Utah consistently has the fewest smokers per capita in the U.S., at only 9%, and is also ranked number 11 on the longevity list.) Colorado and Minnesota are the only two states that are in the top 10 for longevity and whose smoking population is above the national average, but only slightly, at 14.5% and 15.1%, respectively.

6. They eat their vegetables

Healthy eating guidelines have changed considerably over the decades, but one factor has remained consistent: Eating plenty of vegetables can only do you good. The current USDA guidelines suggest 2.5 cups of vegetables daily — a number that most Americans don’t hit — with an emphasis on red, orange, and green vegetables. Only two states that have the highest vegetable consumption are also among the longest-living: Massachusetts and Vermont. We were initially surprised that there wasn’t more crossover, but then we learned that the data here also accounts for starchy vegetables, meaning that french fries can be counted among vegetable intake by the government — although it’s safe to assume that they probably aren’t linked to longer life spans.

Read next: Eating These Nuts May Help You Live Longer

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