What’s the secret to a healthy life? We did a study to find the 12 states with the best “Health IQ”. These states live longer, sleep better, and enjoy low obesity rates. Who are they, and how can the rest of us raise our Health IQ? We’ve got the answers.
The 12 Healthiest States
These states are diverse in a number of ways, but they all know a thing or two about healthy living. Here are just a few things we can learn from them:
Colorado believes in healthy play. The Centennial State has the most mountains over 14,000 feet of any state, and locals love hiking them. Of course, that’s just scratching the surface of the state’s outdoor activities. Colorado offers hiking, rafting, skiing, dog sledding, mountain biking—and a whole lot more. There’s always some healthy activity to do, no matter the season.
Other states might have more work and less play, but they don’t let that keep them down. Take California, for example. Residents of the Golden State don’t just go to work—they bike to it. Yes, Californians love biking to work. Of the top 20 US cities with the highest share of bike commuters, eight cities are in California. In fact, almost a full quarter of commuters in Davis, CA, bike to work.
Healthy commuting is just one of many good habits you’ll find in our top 12 states. Vermont has consistently been recognized as one of the healthiest states in many studies over the years, and a lot of people say that healthy status comes down to two simple habits: Vermont residents exercise and eat their veggies. In fact, they do both at a higher rate than any other state. No wonder they made our top 12.
To determine the states with the best health IQ, we looked at three factors for each state: sleep health, average life expectancy, and obesity rate. While these factors certainly cannot tell us everything about a person’s health, they do provide a general indication of an overall healthy lifestyle.
Sleep health was determined using data from the CDC’s 2014 Behavioral Risk Surveillance System, which reports the percentage of adults sleeping at least seven hours each night (the minimum recommended amount of sleep). In this category, a higher score meant a better ranking. Our life expectancy data simply measured the average age a person lives to in each state, again equating a higher score with better health. Obesity was measured by the percentage of obese adults in each state, so a lower score meant better health.
To make our list, we compared each state’s rankings in these three categories to find out which scored best overall.
The Other 38
You know the 12 healthiest states, but what else did we find?
While many states did well in at least one of the areas we studied, there were states that fared poorly overall, like Georgia and Indiana. Both states had poor sleep health, high obesity rates, and lower-than-average life expectancy.
In general, states with good sleep health fared better overall, but some states surprised us by not quite fitting the mold. Texas, Pennsylvania, and Michigan all have good sleep health but only an average life expectancy. This might be due to their higher obesity rates.
New York and Hawaii were also surprising outliers. Both states had very poor sleep health—Hawaii came in dead last—but also had higher-than-average life expectancies and lower-than-average obesity rates. These states may burn the midnight oil enjoying the city life or catching waves, but they keep healthy in other ways.
The Key to Health
So why are we so concerned with obesity and sleep?
There’s evidence that obesity can dramatically shorten an individual’s life expectancy. This may be because obesity is linked to a number of health conditions, including potentially severe problems like diabetes, heart disease, and stroke. These are conditions that can seriously affect an individual’s health and limit their lifespan. In order to be as healthy as possible, individuals need to be aware of such health risks and work to avoid obesity.
One unexpected cause of obesity is sleep deprivation. Dr. Zarinah Hud, Integrative Medicine Specialist, notes that “a study done by the National Institute of Mental Health observed there were ‘strong associations between short sleep duration (< 6 hours) and obesity, especially between the ages of 27-34.’” If you don’t get enough sleep, you’re at greater risk for obesity—and all the negatives associated with it.
But the risks of sleep deprivation don’t end with obesity. In fact, Jeffrey Durmer, MD/PhD of FusionHealth, reports that sleep deprivation might literally be killing us: “Many epidemiological studies across the globe indicate that humans who sleep on average between 7-8 hours have a much lower ‘all cause’ mortality. There is a 3- to 4-fold increase in chance of mortality (from heart attack, stroke, auto accidents, etc…) when people sleep less than 6 hours.” Sleep has close ties to longevity, so you’ll need to get plenty of rest if you want to live a long and healthy life.
We’ve identified the 12 healthiest states, but that doesn’t mean you have to pack up and move if you don’t live in one of them. The evidence shows that good sleep is correlated with lower obesity, and both are correlated with higher life expectancy. So start getting some sleep, and share this with your friends to help your state make our list next time!
About The Author
The Daily Dozers The Daily Dozers is a team of our finest Mattress Firm sleep happy experts, pooling their expertise to bring you all you need to know on sleep news of the day and the latest trends in sleep health. Sometimes our team of regular Daily Doze contributors (Craig, Ken and Sunni…not to name names) will throw a pillow or two when trying to decide who gets to write about which topic; and when that happens, we let our task force of daily dozin’ specialists play referee, pooling their knowledge on the topic. From super-sized snoring habits to the very real struggle of trying to become a morning person, there’s no topic too tired for The Daily Dozers. Best Night’s Sleep: There’s nothing that this dream team loves more than long walks on the beach to prepare for a peaceful slumber, a warm cup of lavender tea, an old Jane Austen novel and curling up in the comfort of their very own Mattress Firm beds.