- California, Arizona, and Florida were ranked as the best states for health and wellness by a recent survey.
- The scoring metrics were based on access to national parks, interest in health practices, and health data from the CDC.
Thousands of Americans are reaping the benefits of remote work, but their home state may affect their lifestyle and wellbeing.
According to a recent survey, California, Arizona, and Florida were ranked as the best states for health and wellness, while Alabama, Oklahoma, and Louisiana had the lowest wellness scores.
The scores were based on the states’ access to national parks, Google search trends, and health data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Top performers generally had more national parks and fewer numbers of CDC-reported chronic diseases than those who scored poorly.
“If you’re in an area where there is more access to open space, you tend to be outside more and be more active,” Michael A. Smith, MD, wellness advisor to Life Extension, an integrated healthcare company that led the study, told Verywell. “When you’re being more active, you’re striving for more health and you’re going to be more prone to look up integrative practices.”
The definition of “wellness” can fluctuate. For this survey, the researchers defined wellness as the absence of disease combined with outdoor activity levels and personal curiosity about health, according to Smith.
The survey findings only imply an association rather than a causal relationship, he said.
Green Space Is Golden
The survey primarily looked at national parks to quantify green space, as it may indicate greater access to outdoor activities. Washington, D.C., Alaska, Hawaii, California, and Florida have the highest percentage of land dedicated to national parks. But four states—Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, and Oklahoma—have no national parks at all.
In 2020, CDC researchers stressed the importance of keeping parks and green spaces open during the pandemic due to their connection to physical and mental wellbeing.
But in the United States, green space can take on many forms. States and cities void of national parks may still have state parks, as well as local playgrounds, trails, or bike paths that can benefit fitness and health.
In New York City, for example, urban forests, parks, and public lawns make up over 20,000 acres of green space.
“City bikes, rental bikes, or scooters in cities are giving people access to other parts of nature that aren’t just national parks,” said Scott C. Ratzan, MD, a distinguished lecturer in health communication at the CUNY Graduate School of Public Health & Health Policy.
Search Interest in Healthy Diets and Practices
The survey found that people in high-scoring states were more likely to Google integrative health practices, while residents in lower-scoring states searched more frequently for answers to questions about preventable diseases.
For instance, Arizona, New York, and Colorado had the highest search volumes for the term “healthy diet.” Meanwhile, states like Vermont and Massachusetts have high search interests in “meditation” and “yoga.”
However, the researchers were unable to determine if people’s online activities matched how they took care of themselves physically, according to Smith.
Smith, who grew up in Texas, said diets might explain why some parts of the Southern states have the highest rates of diabetes and obesity in the country. “Sugar and fat and salt—that’s like carrots to us,” he said.
However, it’s important not to stigmatize people based on their culture or geographic location, Ratzan added. “We have to be careful not to say ‘this is the least healthy state’ because of how much sugar is consumed,” he said.
Environmental and social factors, such as access to fresh produce and nutrition education, can also affect one’s overall diet quality.
But people don’t necessarily need to move states to live a healthy life, Smith said. But they may need to be more creative when it comes to taking care of their wellbeing. Exercising outdoors, practicing yoga, or prioritizing a nutritious diet can help improve your lifestyle even if the state you live in has a lower wellness score, he added.
“Individuals still have the power to improve their health,” Smith said.
What This Means For You
Proximity to parks, fresh food markets, and quality healthcare can impact health and wellbeing. Some states may foster more access to these resources than others, but that doesn’t mean people need to move to live a healthy life.