Best and Worst Cities for Women's Health

Stick to these healthy habits no matter where you live.

ByCAITLIN CARLSON<br><i>Women's Health</i>
February 22, 2013, 11:37 AM

Feb. 23, 2013&#151; -- Your cholesterol, your blood pressure -- even your IQ -- all can say a whole lot about your health. But there's another stealth number that might speak volumes: your zip code.

Case in point: If you call one of these 10 best places home, chances are you're already physically and mentally fit. But if you reside in one closer to the bottom 10, you may need a little help.

That's where our fifth annual survey comes in. In partnership with Men's Health, we ranked 100 cities in 41 categories—including nutrition, cost of living, and cancer rates—and analyzed the data to reveal how anyone, anywhere, can live optimally. (You can get fit anytime with our Ultimate At-Home Workout Guide.)

Top 10 Best

San Francisco, CA

Salt Lake City, UT

San Jose, CA

Boise, ID

Burlington, VT

Minneapolis, MN

Seattle, WA

Austin, TX

St. Paul, MN

Portland, ME

Top 10 Worst

Birmingham, AL

Philadelphia, PA

Toledo, OH

Memphis, TN

Cleveland, OH

Indianapolis, IN

Jackson, MS

Tulsa, OK

St. Louis, MO

Detroit, MI

Merge Your Body and Mind: San Francisco, Calif.

You could wade through tons of scientific research to grasp just how closely physical and mental health are linked. Or you could just check out this number one city.

The women who live there are the healthiest overall in the country, thanks to a one-two punch—they're some of the most active and they have the least anxiety and depression out of our top 10 cities. It's a symbiotic scenario: Studies show that solid emotional health can boost the immune system. On the flip side, research shows that regular exercise can be as effective as meds at fending off mental woes.

Flex your mental and corporal muscles by seeking out new experiences—cooking classes, trivia nights—and by getting at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise most days of the week, says San Francisco clinical psychologist Jacinta Jimenez, Psy.D.

Treat Your Ticker Right: San Jose, Calif.

The gals in this sunny spot score top marks for cardiac health, likely because they're way into heart-friendly physical fitness (San Jose has more runners than almost any other city in the country). But it could also be because of what they're not doing.

Fewer people light up in San Jose than in any other U.S. city, a healthy boon since smoking can clog arteries and increase risk for heart disease, heart attack, and stroke, says local cardiologist Dan V. Dang, M.D.

So ditch the cigs and, while you're at it, let these women teach you a lesson in moderation. Fewer people binge drink here than in any of our top 10 towns, sparing their hearts the negative effects of too much alcohol. Stick to one drink or less per day, says Dang, and hit the trail (or treadmill) at least five days a week. (The scenery is much better when you run outside. Get inspired by browsing our list of The 10 Most Beautiful Nature Runs in the Country.)


More from Women's Health:

Eat Fresh, Save Your Brain: Portland, Maine

Stroke rates for younger adults are on the rise. But in Portland, fewer females die from the scary brain attacks than in most other U.S. cities.

Their secret might lie on their plates, which are typically loaded with produce. Research shows that noshing eight or more daily servings of fruits and veggies could decrease stroke risk by 30 percent. The fresh fare is packed with fiber and antioxidants and helps fight high cholesterol and clogged arteries, two factors that contribute to stroke.

"I tell my patients to eat mostly whole grains, fresh fruits, and veggies," says Jane Morris, M.D., an associate medical director at the Neuroscience Institute of Maine Medical Center. Add some tomatoes, grapefruit, and watermelon to your diet. They are rich in a phytonutrient called lycopene that one study found may cut stroke risk.

Take it from the women of Portland, who are also some of the country's least obese: You'll live longer and look better.

Work Out Cancer: Austin, Texas

Sure, sweating is just all-around good for you. But as Austin's women prove, intense exercise sessions can help stamp out the big C.

Fewer women die of cancer in Austin than in almost any other locale, possibly because they tend to hit the gym (or trail, or weights) hard at least three days a week. Vigorous exercise (think rapid breathing and increased heart rate) can power up the immune system and help prevent the development of cancer-causing cells, says oncologist and hematologist Jane Chawla, M.D., of Texas Oncology-Austin Central.

The American Cancer Society advises women to get in at least 75 minutes of tough workouts a week; doing more could yield even better cancer-fighting benefits.

Try some high-intensity interval training: After warming up for three to five minutes, alternate one minute of all-out, fast-paced running or biking with one minute at slow recovery pace; repeat six to eight times, then cool down for three to five minutes. (Are you ready for a challenge? If you can run 3 miles, You Can Run A Half-Marathon. Just follow our 10-week training plan.)

Find Your Purpose: Burlington, Vt.

Healthy living isn't just about exercise and nutrition; feeling that you have a sense of purpose is also essential to your well-being.

Burlington women report having lots of meaning (and less stress overall) in their lives, thanks, in part, to the fact that they're almost all employed; the city has the lowest jobless rate -- 3.5 percent -- of any place in our top 10.

"Jobs provide structure and routine in our lives -- i.e., a reason to get up in the morning -- which contributes to a sense of meaning," says local psychologist Kate Longmald, Ph.D. "And working for something you really care about makes you feel like your life matters."

Of course, not every city's economy is so robust, but you can still suss out a sense of purpose via volunteering or getting creative. Learning a new skill (painting, speaking a foreign language, playing a musical instrument) can parallel the energy-amping, purpose-enhancing effect of a satisfying job, says Longmald.


More from Women's Health:

ABC News Live

ABC News Live

24/7 coverage of breaking news and live events