10 Best Cities to Live in for Your Health

Three American cities — Boston, Chicago, and Miami — made the list of the best cities to live for your health.

Living in a big city with air pollution, long commute hours, and stress due to skyrocketing rent prices can put a strain on your health. However, some cities are healthier than others, according to a new Healthnews index.

The list of the best 10 cities to live in for your health was compiled using metrics like the 2024 happiness index, the number of sunshine hours, air quality index, average weekly physical activity, obesity rates, and total number of hospitals, among others.

Each metric was assigned to weighted scores which then were combined, giving each city a total score out of 100. While European capitals dominate the list, three cities in the United States are among the healthiest globally.

Is exercising the key to happiness?

Amsterdam, the capital of the Netherlands, was named the healthiest city in the world to live in. With people working 30 hours a week on average, no wonder why the city scores 7.32 out of 10 in the happiness rating.

An average resident of Amsterdam spends 12.8 hours a week exercising, significantly exceeding the amount of time recommended in the U.S. According to the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, adults should aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity and two days of muscle-strengthening activities each week.

Exercising is crucial for physical and mental health. It can help to maintain a healthy weight, and reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome, infectious diseases, and some cancers, at the same time strengthening bones and muscles.

Aerobic exercises have been proven to reduce anxiety and depression and can also improve self-esteem and cognitive function. A 2023 study suggests running can be as effective for mental health as antidepressants, although commitment to physical activity is much harder to maintain, as shown by high dropout rates in the study.

Sunshine is crucial for mental health

Boston, the largest city in Massachusetts, is home to major hospitals, leading research centers, and Harvard Medical School, bringing the latest health innovations within reach. Unsurprisingly, Boston ranked third in the world’s top healthiest cities list.

Bostonians enjoy 2,634 hours of sunshine a year, which may contribute to their well-being. Exposure to sunlight is thought to activate the production of serotonin, a neurotransmitter responsible for regulating mood. Individuals with sufficient serotonin levels feel happier and calmer.

Despite working 40 hours a week on average, the residents of Boston spare 6.3 hours to exercise. This comes as no surprise in the city that holds the oldest annual marathon in the world.

The sixth on the list is Chicago, IL, with a happiness score of 6.73, and its residents engaging in physical activity for an average of 6.3 hours a week. The city has decided to take health seriously by launching the Healthy Chicago 2025 movement, which is an initiative that aims to increase life expectancy and overall health status for Black and Latinx Chicagoans.

Over 3,100 hours of sunshine every year makes Miami, FL, the sunniest city on the list, where it ranks ninth. Miami residents enjoy access to healthy food, an active lifestyle, and close proximity to nature, according to the report.

Complex determinants of health

Although three American cities made it to the list, it is worth noting that U.S. healthcare is the most expensive in the world. Four in ten (41%) of American adults report having medical debt, which is often accompanied by other financial stress forms, such as having no “rainy day fund” or delaying medical care.

The prevalence of obesity in the U.S. is about 40%, much higher than 3.6% in the Netherlands and 16% in Belgium, the cities of which were ranked among the healthiest ones.

Multiple factors, including genetics, behavior, and environmental influences, determine our health and living in one of the healthiest cities is unlikely to work as a cure for mental and physical diseases. Still, physical activity, sunshine, and quality medical care can positively impact management.

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