Health and wellness website RealAge.com launched a patented online health assessment in 1999, and the site recently analyzed more than 27 million responses to determine the best and worst U.S. cities for aging. It took into consideration statistics regarding hypertension, marital status, and habits related to smoking, exercise, and sleep by a random sampling of 1,000 RealAge members from each of the 50 largest U.S. cities. This marks the first time the company has analyzed the results on a city-by-city basis.
Salt Lake City, Utah, is ranked the “youngest” city based on its inhabitants’ habits. In Tennessee, Knoxville and Nashville have the most smokers of the 50 largest U.S. cities, and they’re two of the least physically active cities as well. They’re ranked 50th and 49th, respectively. On average, residents of the “youngest” cities are physically at least two years younger than their chronological age.
The top 10 “youngest” and “oldest” cities are listed below; the RealAge website ranks all 50 of the cities surveyed.
The five U.S. metro areas where you have the best odds of staying young:
Salt Lake City, UT
San Francisco – Oakland – San Jose, CA
Denver – Boulder – Greeley, CO
Boston – Worcester – Lawrence, MA
The five U.S. metro areas that are likely to make you old before your time:
Greensboro – Winston-Salem – High Point, NC
Saginaw – Bay City – Midland, MI
Cincinnati- Hamilton, OH
“Each city’s ranking is more than just a number,” says Dr. Keith Roach, Chief Medical Officer of RealAge and a co-creator of its test. “It’s a unique assessment of the healthy lifestyles, or lack of them, in each metro area — of how people live there, what they’re doing right and what they need to change. If you live in one of the 10 oldest cities, take this as the alarm on your body’s aging clock going off! It’s never too late for a fresh start.”
It’s no surprise that both our good and bad personal habits affect how quickly our bodies age. Although the communities in which we live may not literally affect how quickly we age, they can affect how comfortably we do so. The number of Americans over the age of 65 is expected to double by 2050, reaching nearly a quarter of the country’s population.
The National Association of Area Agencies on Aging (n4a) expects that number to peak as early as 2030. An n4a survey of thousands of cities and communities across the country finds that America is not ready for the aging population boom. Some are addressing the needs head-on, however, such as Aiken, S.C. “With growth, there are going to come things that you have to deal with,” said William Price, a member of the recently formed Senior Commission in Aiken. “Individuals are living longer, and we certainly have to prepare for that.”
Aiken is preparing its emergency-care providers and first responders with specialized training. It also introduced a service called Smart 911, where residents can link their phone numbers with personal data such as medications and family contact information, which displays on a 911 dispatcher’s monitor during a distress call. The city also uses Project Lifesaver, a national service which provides dementia patients with bracelets that transmit their location via GPS.
Special training for first responders is one of the recommended 10 ten “best practices” for cities to address aging populations, compiled by Sharon O’Brien, the Senior Living Guide at About.com. Other suggestions, from a variety of sources, include preventive health care, nutrition education, fitness programs, home modification programs, tax assistance, and community engagement.
Safe driving assistance and transportation alternatives are also helpful. Mayfield, Ohio, for example, decided to switch to a shuttle system to accommodate more people at once rather than a $3-per-ride individual transportation system. The scheduled shuttle loops between set locations such as grocery stores and medical facilities. Some communities use school buses during off-hours for senior transportation. Improved pedestrian safety is another concern.
Additionally, AARP research shows that 89% of the 50-plus population wants to remain in their homes as long as possible. Continued independent living is preferable, but not always a possibility. One compromise is removing or amending local laws that make “mother-in-law” additions to home illegal.
By considering all of these factors now, communities can become more “age-friendly” and improve quality of life for all of its citizens. As contributor Sally Abrahms writes for the AARP Bulletin,
That means encouraging physical activity such as walking (walking = exercise = increased mobility = better health = staying in your home longer), while reducing dependence on cars. It means having convenient access to stores, parks, healthy food, and social and health services, as well as safe and readily available public transportation. It also means offering affordable and varied housing as residents’ needs change, and revamping zoning codes to allow for thoughtful growth and development. And this especially means giving older people opportunities for social interaction and civic engagement such as volunteering.
Source: “The Best and Worst Cities for Staying Young,” RealAge.com, 2011
Source: “Can Where You Live Make You Older? Or Younger? Yes! New RealAge Report Identifies the Cities Where People Age Fastest and Slowest,” RealAge press release via Enhanced Online News, 04/05/11
Source: “Towns change programs, enlarge street signs to adapt to an older population,” The Washington Post, 07/15/11
Source: “10 Ways Communities Can Prepare for the Aging Population Boom,” About.com: Senior Living
Source: “Towns and Cities Prepare for Aging Populations,” AARP Bulletin, 03/14/11
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