By CIC Staff
It’s well known that the task of living a healthy lifestyle becomes easier with support. Families, accountability groups, classes at the local gym — when we take on health as a group, we are sure to succeed in giving up the bad habits in exchange for healthier diets and more exercise. Now imagine having the support of an entire community!
The 30 great small towns on this list are some of the healthiest in America. Some of them are located near beaches or mountains and therefore naturally provide more health benefits, while others have city-run departments encouraging health through community-wide programs or improved infrastructure. But they all have one thing in common: they are one of 30 great healthy small towns in America.
Albert Lea, Minnesota
The small town of Albert Lea, population 18,000, takes healthy living very seriously. In 2009, its citizens integrated a wellness plan inspired by the book Blues Zones, which describes in detail the healthiest places in the world. Much of the plan has included implementing new hiking trails, parks, sidewalks, and other pedestrian improvements to encourage walking and cycling. So far, the plan has worked, and Albert Lea has reported that residents’ walking has increased by 70 percent.
Barnstable Town, Massachusetts
Barnstable Town, Massachusetts is actually a collection of seven small villages located on Cape Cod. The area is literally surrounded by beaches, so sailing, fishing, kayaking, and walking along the beach are accessible forms of exercise for any and all of Barnstable’s 45,000 residents. But such funs forms of exercise aren’t the only benefit to leaving near the ocean. Dozens of restaurants serving freshly caught seafood are within walking distance from each of the villages’ charming town squares, so Cape Cod residents are definitely getting all of their Omega-3s!
When you live between the Pacific Coast and the foot of Mount Baker, it’s easy to find the motivation necessary to get out and be active. Hiking, cycling, swimming, fishing, kayaking, skiing — they’re all popular here. In fact, the town of Bellingham has even capitalized on its stunning natural scenery and reputation as an athlete’s paradise. Each year, the city hosts Ski to Sea, a 93.5-mile long race in which competitors must downhill ski, cross-country ski, run, canoe, cycle, and kayak.
With an average of 300+ days of sunshine each year, Bend residents have every reason to get outside to exercise. Various trails of the hiking and biking varieties start right at Bend’s downtown, while other trails exist nearby at Smith Rock State Park and the Deschutes River. A local foodie scene does a great job keeping things healthy as well. Even the pizza parlors and burger joints offer fresher, farm-to-table ingredients and cooking styles much healthier than some of the alternatives.
Residents of Billings, Montana don’t have much excuse when it comes to staying in and lounging on the couch. Besides the nearly endless number of activities available in nearby Yellowstone National Park, Billings is home to Rimrocks, Swords Park, the Yellowstone River, and Pictograph Cave State Park, all of which offer plenty of opportunity for hiking, cycling, horseback riding, camping, and kayaking. To fuel their outdoor adventures, Billings locals enjoy easy access to local plants and produce thanks to set-ups like the Yellowstone Valley Farmers Market.
No matter how one chooses to get out and be healthful, in Bishop, California there is something for everyone. The town is surrounded by beautiful natural surroundings. Owens River Gorge and Pine Creek are two popular hiking spots, though dozens and dozens of other trails for walking or biking meander their way around town, too. In winter, skiing in nearby Mammoth is a must-do. After working up a sweat on the trails or slopes, relax and rejuvenate in one of the area’s many hot springs.
Bonita Springs, Florida
Can you imagine being surrounded by pristine beaches and not finding time to be active outdoors? We didn’t think so. Nestled between Naples and Fort Myers, Bonita Springs is a water lover’s paradise. Canoeing, swimming, sailing, kayaking, and any other form of exercise that takes place in the water are the preferred methods of exercise here. Even taking a walk is more appealing when it can be beachside and double as a search for shells and sea glass.
Brookings, South Dakota
Residents in Brookings, South Dakota get almost double the amount of exercise recommended by the U.S. government. Perhaps that’s because Brookings has been well-designed as an outdoorsy city, complete with several baseball diamonds, large parks, multiple community swimming pools, and miles of trails for walking, jogging, and cycling. Even the local Department of Parks and Recreation gets in on the fun by hosting dozens of healthy community-wide events throughout the year.
Charlottesville, Virginia’s ideal location at the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains contributes to the healthy and active lifestyles Charlottesville residents enjoy. Shenandoah National Park has dozens of hiking and biking trails, while two nearby lakes make for perfect fishing, swimming, and more hiking! Back in town, residents have a wide selection of health food stores and organic grocers, plus plenty of restaurants with menus featuring fresh produce and grass-fed meats. Fun fact: Less than 15% of Charlottesville residents are smokers.
The affluent little island of Coronado sits within sight of the city of San Diego, and is most famous as the home of Hotel Del Coronado, one of the most recognizable and expensive hotels in the country. Everything in Coronado revolves around the beach (which happen to be some of the cleanest in Southern California). Running, tennis, cycling, surfing, yoga, and swimming are all popular pastimes here and contribute to the town’s healthy reputation. Even eating in Coronado is healthier, as trans fats are banned in all Coronado restaurants.
Flagstaff is Arizona’s most elevated town, and so its cooler temperatures and crisper air go a long way in attracting healthy and active residents. The 50-mile Urban Trails System is ideal for running, and circles towns so a recovery stop at one of Flagstaff’s locally owned coffee shops is an easy way to end a workout. Flagstaff also offers a number of options for more leisurely hiking and biking, namely the San Francisco Peaks, Schultz Pass Trail, or Oak Creek Canyon in nearby Sedona.
Grand Haven, Michigan
Whether spring, summer, fall, or winter, there are plenty of ways to stay active and healthy in Grand Haven, Michigan. During warmer months, Grand Haven residents have their pick of hiking and cycling trails in and around Grand Haven State Park and Holland State Park, including a 20-mile trail that runs between the two. Nearby Lake Michigan is a popular destination for water sports, while the long boardwalk is a great place to walk or jog with the benefit of a stunning lake view. In winter, there are multiple places to go cross-country skiing, while downhill skiers and snowboarders have access to eight downhill runs at Mulligan’s Hollow Ski Bowl.
Ask any Haleiwa resident where they spend most of their time, and you’re likely to hear “the beach,” where running, surfing, swimming, and even meditating are all common activities. But the opportunities for activity and health don’t end at the beach. The North Shore bike path is well-known as a good place for both biking and hiking, while dozens of local restaurants are favorites for their healthy menu items like fresh acai bowl and spicy tuna concoctions.
Hernando, Mississippi was recently named the healthiest town in the state by Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Mississippi Foundation. Such an honor is likely due to the many health programs promoted by the city, including a Safe Routes to Schools program for kids, various Healthy Eating and Active Living classes for residents of all ages, and a new Complete Streets law that promotes walking and biking and encouraged the installation of new bike lanes and sidewalks.
Highlands Ranch, Colorado
Located just 15 miles from Denver, Highlands Ranch offers its residents all the best things that appeal to a healthy person: big city amenities, stunning natural scenery, and easy access to the mountains for skiing and hiking, among so many other things. Not to mention, there are 110 doctors in this town of 100,000 people, and more than 30 hospitals within a 60 mile radius. For these reasons, it’s not surprising that Highlands Ranch’s Douglas County has been called the healthiest county in Colorado and one of the healthiest small towns in America.
Yet another town to make our list of great healthy small towns in America, Hilo, Hawaii is known for some different healthy activities than the other Hawaiian towns listed. While it’s true that Hilo residents enjoy the usual island pastimes of golfing, diving, hiking, jogging, and surfing, they also get a fair amount of skiing in. Indeed, Hilo is home to Mauna Kea, the only ski destination in all of the Hawaiian islands.
Hilton Head, South Carolina
Hilton Head, South Carolina may be a relaxing vacation destination, but that doesn’t seem to effect the over-all health of its residents. The town boasts 12 miles of postcard-perfect shoreline that are ideal for jogging along the waterline, swimming, snorkeling, boating, or even building sandcastles. The town also hosts the PGA Tour’s annual Heritage Golf Classic, and is therefore home to a number of golf courses just perfect for a relaxing round or two.
Jackson, Wyoming, situated a stone’s throw from Yellowstone National Park, is a go-to place for those who love to spend time in the fresh, crisp air. Mountain biking trails are plentiful around here, while nearby Grand Teton National Park is a great place to spend some time hiking or river surfing. And the activities only pick up come winter, when the area known as Jackson Hole becomes all about skiing and snowboarding.
Located near Honolulu on the island of Oahu, Ko’olaupoko is a peaceful small town with warm breezes, swaying palm trees, pristine beaches, and — of course — beautiful ocean views. Residents don’t have to travel far to hike, swim, or surf, and after a long day of outdoor activity, plenty of local restaurants specialize in fresh seafood lunches and dinners. Between the activities and diet, plus the complete lack of stress associated with “Hawaiian time,” Ko’olaupoko is easily one of the healthiest small towns in America. Want proof? The town holds the record for the fewest cancer-related deaths in the entire United States.
Lebanon, New Hampshire
Lebanon, New Hampshire happens to be the address of Dartmouth Medical School, one of the top medical schools in the nation. And that isn’t even the healthiest thing about Lebanon! The town’s recreation department has done a phenomenal job promoting exercise and healthy lifestyles with offered programs like youth skiing and snowboarding trips, community clean-up days, a well-attended local farmer’s market, city-wide marathons, and much, much more.
If you’re in need of a breath of fresh air, then head to Monterey, California, a coastal town located not too far from San Francisco. There’s hardly any air pollution here, thanks in part to pro-bicycle local culture and rules that prohibit the use of cigarettes on the beach. The entirety of Monterey proper is a national marine sanctuary, so forms of exercise such as scuba diving, kayaking, sailing, or just spending time at the beach jogging or playing volleyball are all popular here.
Nashua, New Hampshire
Mental health and a positive outlook are two important factors when it comes to overall health. In fact, it’s these two things that make Nashua, New Hampshire one of the healthiest small towns in America, as the majority of Nashua residents consider themselves to be in “good or excellent” health. This is the highest percentage of any place in the United States, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And there’s little need to worry when the time comes for medical help — there are 71 hospitals and nearly 700 doctors within a one-hour radius of Nashua.
Orem, Utah, located near Salt Lake City, is an easy addition to our list of great healthy small towns, thanks in part to the fact that it has one of lowest rates of cancer in the country (per 100,000 people). Part of Orem’s low cancer rate is surely due to the fact that a large percentage of its population is Mormon, a religion that prides itself on smoke and alcohol-free living. Orem also enjoys a close proximity to a number of national parks that happen to be some of the best places in the country for hiking, camping, biking, running, and fishing.
No matter the weather, Salida residents love spending time outdoors. Come winter, the town becomes like a ski resort as people travel from near and far to enjoy skiing at Monarch Pass and the area’s many cross-country trails. In warmer weather, paddling and tubing along the Arkansas River is a preferred way to burn some calories, as is mountain biking up the single-track trail on nearby S Mountain.
San Luis Obispo, California
Imagine being able to hit the beach and the mountains all in one day. That’s a reality for residents of San Luis Obispo, one of the healthiest populations in America. Avila Beach, a small town nearby, is a great place for swimming or surfing (even if the water on California’s Pacific coast does tend to be a little chilly), while further inland one can find plenty of places for hiking, jogging, cycling, or mountain biking. Considering all of this, it’s no wonder San Luis Obispo and San Luis Obispo County is the 6th healthiest county in all of California.
According to the California Department of Public Health, approximately 70% of children and 56% of adults in Sonoma, California eat at least five servings of fruits and vegetables each day — though we would argue that eating the recommended numbers of fruits and veggies is much easier when you live in a place surrounded by lush farmlands. Sonoma’s winding country roads and gently rolling hills make cycling and hiking an appealing reason to get outdoors and exercise, and surely contribute to the fact that 46% of Sonoma County adults maintain a healthy weight, a rate that is a whopping 16% higher than the national.
South Burlington, Vermont
South Burlington’s most famous resident may be Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, but don’t let that fool you, as this small town in Vermont is one of the healthiest in America. South Burlington is nestled between Lake Champlain and the Green Mountains, giving residents easy access to such outdoor activities as hiking, cycling, sailing, and swimming, among countless other things. Within South Burlington’s borders are two parks, Overlook and Red Rocks, where plenty of biking and hiking paths make for a picturesque setting on a morning or evening exercise run.
St. Augustine, Florida
Whether it’s the beach or the sunshine, something makes St. Augustine, Florida one of the top healthy small towns in America. Seventy-seven percent of St. Augustine residents maintain a healthy weight (all that running on the beach, perhaps), while 86% of them are non-smokers. Even more impressive is that 86% of St. Augustine residents report living an active lifestyle, not surprising considering the town has plenty of beaches, hiking and cycling trails, and a charming downtown area perfect for strolling.
Tybee Island, Georgia
Health and exercise is an important part of daily life on Tybee Island, Georgia, a small barrier island situated just 18 miles from Savannah. The island boasts a beautiful three-mile stretch of beach, a popular destination for swimming, soaking in some Vitamin-D, and participating in a yoga group. Even the restaurants are healthy, with a variety serving up options that include heart-healthy seafood and salads. Even more impressive is the fact that cars are a rarity here. When it comes to getting around, the locals seem to prefer bikes, skateboards, roller skates, or even their own two feet.
Thanks to its clean air, fresh meat, and beautiful natural surroundings, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that Valdez, Alaska is a great healthy small town. Some hardcore cross-country skiing can be had on Thompson Pass, while ice climbing on one of Keystone Canyon’s many waterfalls makes for an experience just as thrilling. Fortunately, those wanting to exercise while enjoying the outdoors also have the options of kayaking in the sea at Shoup Glacier or heading to Mineral Creek to paddle — two much more relaxing ways to get the blood flowing and the heart pumping.
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