Health is one of the biggest factors for Boomers in building a secure retirement. Good physical health means retirees can lead more active lives and reduce their medical expenses. But health is more than notes on a doctor’s chart. Economic health, emotional and mental health, and social health all have roles to play in a truly healthy retirement.
A retirement lifestyle that supports healthy living can vary widely depending on where one lives. Communities with green space, clean air and water, quality healthcare, social activities, and strong economies and low crime will offer retirees the highest quality of life.
Bankers Life’s new report, America’s Best Cities for a Healthy (and More Affordable) Retirement, looks at 60 metropolitan areas to rank the healthiest cities for retirees. The cities were scored on eight categories that are key to healthy living: healthcare, the economy and affordability, social, wellness, activities, environment, transportation and crime.
According to the World Health Organization, a healthy city is one:
…that is continually creating and improving those physical and social environments and expanding those community resources which enable people to mutually support each other in performing all the functions of life and in developing to their maximum potential.
Source: World Health Organization, Health Promotion Glossary, 1998.
To rank the 60 largest U.S. metropolitan areas in terms of health and suitability for middle-income retirees (those we define as having an annual household income between $25,000 and $100,000 and investible assets of less than $1 million), we looked at two broad factors:
To determine how healthy a city is, we examined data in eight categories that are key to the overall health of an area and its residents: healthcare, the economy, social, wellness, activities, the environment, transportation and crime. Categories that have a greater impact on overall health were more heavily weighted in determining a city’s total score and ranking.
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To determine an area’s affordability for middle-income retirees, we paid special attention to three specific metrics: cost-of-living index, median housing price and median rental price. (Cost-of-living index takes into consideration a city’s costs for housing, transportation, utilities, healthcare and miscellaneous goods and services.) Cities that ranked in the top 15% most expensive for those three metrics were disqualified from consideration for our final top ten Best Cities list. These cities still appear in the rankings of the 60 biggest metro areas and individual categories.
* Revised on 8/12/2015 for clarity.
Widespread availability of physicians specializing in geriatric issues—such as cardiology and oncology—is critical to supporting a healthy retiree population. This criteria category also examines the number of physicians and hospitals per capita, hospital ratings based on patient reviews and the affordability of home healthcare.
Economy & Affordability
This category presents a snapshot of the region’s economic health and affordability for retirees, placing special emphasis on quality of life issues, such as overall cost of living and housing prices. The study also takes into account sales tax, the local unemployment rate and any taxes on Social Security or pension income.
Thriving social health depends on numerous factors, from the existence of a sizeable peer group to sufficient emotional support. This category considers the percentage of the overall population in the Baby Boomer generation (i.e., ages 51 to 69), seniors’ social and emotional well-being and satisfaction with life and the number of four-year colleges, libraries and civic and volunteer opportunities in the area.
Separate from healthcare, the wellness category focuses on the actual physical health of an area’s residents, in particular issues of importance to retirees: life expectancy; smoking, obesity and depression rates; and mortality from cancer, heart disease and Alzheimer’s disease.
Recreational opportunities are a major component of retirees’ physical, mental and social health. To determine a location’s score in this category, we looked at physical activities such as golf and tennis, 5Ks and marathons, gym membership and hiking and walking trails. We also considered the availability of cultural activities like farmers markets and community gardens, museums, symphonies and operas, theater and dance, and zoos and aquariums.
In ranking the metro areas in terms of the environment, we considered multiple factors, including number of sunny days per year and the summer heat index, local air and water quality, the presence and accessibility of bodies of water and the number of local and state parks.
Transportation often poses difficulties for retirees with health challenges, such as limited or reduced mobility. To rank cities in this category, the study looked at the accessibility of an area’s public transportation system and the percentage of commuters who use mass transit.
The healthiest cities in terms of crime were ranked the safest metropolitan areas in the nation because they had the lowest rates of property and violent crimes.
- Seattle, Washington
- Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota
- Denver, Colorado
- Portland, Oregon
- Hartford, Connecticut
- Omaha, Nebraska
- Baltimore, Maryland
- Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
- Cleveland, Ohio
- Salt Lake City, Utah