If only getting your health back on track was as simple as moving to a healthier place. The research is certainly out there: People who live in areas with plenty of green plants and trees are happier, and working out in a city could lead to higher inflammation.
But when the United Health Foundation released a list of the healthiest and unhealthiest states this month, the results were grim: A full 27.8 percent of Americans are obese, 9.5 percent have diabetes, 30.8 percent have hypertension, and 26.2 percent lead sedentary lifestyles. The good news? Some states are better of than others.
Take your health to the next level with these tips from the five healthiest states—no matter where you live.
Get Smart Like #1 Vermont
According to the report, Vermonters work their bodies and their brains—the state has one of the highest high school graduation rates in the country.
What you can learn: People with more than a high school diploma live up to 7 years longer, says a Harvard Medical School study. But researchers credit the extra years to the idea that the more educated you are, the better access you have to health information. The good news: Even if you don’t have a Ph.D., up-to-date health information is available at your fingertips. Get yourself up to speed by checking out our roundup of the Best Health Apps.
Instill Happiness Like #2 Hawaii
Besides the obvious lure and health boosts of a sunny destination (vitamin D improves your mood) and an outdoorsy culture (surfing, hiking, and biking burn calories), Hawaii also ranked #1 for well-being in the 2012 Gallup Healthways Well-Being Index—a survey of more than 350,000 people. (Here’s why Hawaiians are the The Happiest People in America.)
What you can learn: You can’t steal the Hawaiian sun, but as little as 15 minutes of exercise outdoors on a sunny day—anywhere—can increase feelings of happiness and lower your risk for depression.
Break a Sweat Like #3 New Hampshire
With one of the lowest sedentary lifestyle rates in the U.S., New Hampshire stays healthy because it’s blessed by surroundings that welcome exercise. Mountains, lakes, the Atlantic Ocean, and trails provide year-round fitness escapes.
What you can learn: Forget skiing the crowded mountains or becoming a drone on the treadmill at packed gyms. Hike your local mountain, find a new trail to explore, or learn to snowboard—changing up your workout is the best way to see the results you want. In fact, it might be just what you need to push yourself through: A University of Florida at Gainesville study found that doing the same workout over an over again increases the chance that you’ll give up, while changing it up could increase your motivation. (Find your next challenge in the Men’s Health Adventure Guide.)
Stay Slim Like #4 Massachusetts
Sure, Massachusetts has one of the lowest obesity rates in the U.S., but the stat is misleading: The truth is, 22.7 percent of people in Massachusetts are still overweight or obese—that’s just lower than the national average. (Blame indigenous gut bombs like Fenway Franks and clam chowder.) The reason the Bay State scores better in terms of obesity may have more to do with money than snacking habits. A 2012 study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that the cheapest foods per calorie to be grains, sugars, and fats. The most expensive? Fruits and vegetables. Researchers believe this is why more affluent states like Mass tend to have lower obesity rates.
What you can learn: You don’t need to be a millionaire to eat well. Just spend your cash on food wisely: Make meals at home with natural ingredients like beans, nuts, and whole grains, and cut back on buying meat and dairy if you’re pinching pennies. A 2010 study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found this technique to improve overall diet without increasing your spending.
Protect Your Ticker Like #5 Minnesota
In the past 10 years, the rate of cardiovascular deaths decreased from 270.4 to 195.9 deaths per 100,000 people in Minnesota, according to the report.
What you can learn: Avoid smoky bars. Minnesota actually bans most indoor smoking, reducing secondhand smoke and the consequential health problems. A study published in Circulation found that people who live in communities where smoking bans have been in effect for a year saw a 17 percent decrease in heart attacks.
Additional research by Kiera Aaron.