What defines a healthy city? Is it a place with a lot of open spaces where people can exercise and enjoy the fresh air? A place with little or no pollution? A place where people can freely socialize and express their ideas without the fear of oppression? According to think tanks like the Economist Intelligence Unit and Gallup Poll it’s all that plus more.
Other considerations were the availability of health and fitness facilities, an excellent healthcare program and sincere efforts by the local government to actively promote health and wellness among its citizens. Of all the cities in the world, the honor of the top 10 healthiest cities goes to the following.
10 Zurich, Switzerland
Zurich residents have a competitive yet healthy attitude when it comes to sports. Sports play an active part in how they keep fit and in the general civic mindset. There are many types of sports facilities to choose from and many international sporting organizations also have their main headquarters located there. Aside from the body, the Zurich local government also pays attention to cultivating the mind. There are more than nine museums in the city, including the Swiss National Museum and the Rietberg Museum which houses exhibits from all over the globe. It also has three of the country’s biggest universities. Like the Austrians, the Swiss also take good care of their citizens when it comes to healthcare, the Swiss government spends more than 11 percent of its Gross Domestic Product for universal healthcare coverage.
9 Calgary, Canada
Five years ago Forbes magazine declared this city in Alberta, Canada the cleanest city in the world. It may no longer have that record but it is still one of the cleanest in the world today. There are great ways to keep fit all year round. In the colder months, tourists and residents can choose to ski, snowboard or luge; in the summer months people can go biking in the trails or go waterskiing at the Predator Bay Water Skiing club. Golfers can also get their green in Calgary. The city is also home to centers of arts and culture like the Olympic Plaza in the Arts District, the Calgary Public Library and the Alberta Ballet Center.
8 Helsinki, Finland
Last year Helsinki was chosen as the World Design Capital owing to its metropolitan and architectural design, but strangely enough this sprawling city has very few cars, so few the ratio has been estimated at only 390 per every 1,000 residents. The result? Very low pollution and a healthy walking lifestyle. People living in this city have a life expectancy of just under 80 years old, one of the highest in Europe. They also have one of the lowest infant morality rates. The city has around 200 different newspapers, over 300 hobby magazines, over 2,000 professional magazines and over 60 radio stations. It also has the National Museum of Finland, the Finnish National Theatre and hosts the annual Helsinki Festival.
7 Auckland, New Zealand
Men and women in this city can expect to live up to 80 years old. There’s a great healthcare plan, lots of healthy things to do, and sunshine, lots of sunshine. A third more sunshine than those living in London can come to expect every year. Watersports are common in the city, particularly sailing. An estimated one in every three Aucklanders own a boat. As much as hundreds of yachts or sailboats can converge on Viaduct Basin at any given time, giving the city the name the City of Sails. The city also has the Auckland Art Gallery and hosts the biennial Auckland Festival which showcases local and international music, dance, arts and theater.
6 Minneapolis-St Paul, U.S.A.
The people of this city in Minnesota love wide open spaces, and it shows. According to a study the city spends double the usual spending for parks and now they have parks for everything; parks for biking, parks for walking, ball parks and parks for dogs. They have a lot of golf courses for the adults and many playgrounds for the kids. This appreciation of the outside has also led to the extensive use of bicycles among the population, making it one of the countries in the U.S. with the lowest pollution. It also has the highest overall rate of physical activity in a U.S. city. The city has a lot of farmer’s markets where residents can get unprocessed and fresh produce. The result is the lowest overall incidences of heart disease and diabetes compared to other U.S. cities.
5 Sydney, Australia
Blessed with abundant parkland and all-year-round good weather, the Sydney government has done well in building many parks and trails where people can go out to exercise or just enjoy the fresh air. So much so that enjoying the outdoors is a proud part of Sydney culture. There are also many fitness gyms and sports facilities, holdovers from the city’s hosting the 2000 Summer Olympics, to make sure the populations stays fit and healthy. Sydney also ranks high in education with learning not being limited to school and universities but a number of museums including several designed for children. Despite being a developed city, pollution in Sydney is also among the world’s lowest, thanks to their focus on the use of bicycles and constant planting and maintenance of trees.
4 Stockholm, Sweden
Stockholm is home to more than a hundred museums, one of the highest concentrations in the world, making it a great place for appreciating culture and the arts. These museums include the Fotografiska, one of the world's largest meeting places for contemporary photography; the Skansen Open-Air Museum and the Gamla stan – not just a museum but one of the oldest and largest medieval city centers in the continent. Stockholm is not all about the mental. The city residents love to walk and prefer legging it over motorized transportation any day. Never mind if the location is a mile away, or if it’s snowing, or if there’s a frozen lake between them and the destination, they will try to walk it during winter and bike over to it during summer. The result is a population that is healthy and used to physical activity and an environment that is free from pollution. The fact that they have a six-mile urban park within the city does not hurt their air quality either. In 2010 the city was awarded the European Green Capital Award by the EU Commission.
3 Copenhagen, Denmark
Just like the residents of Helsinki and Stockholm, Copenhageners love to walk. Foot traffic accounts for 80 percent of all traffic in the Copenhagen city center. Those who prefer can also bike. It is estimated more than a third of all work trips in Copenhagen are carried out on a bike. The biking is not just for the locals, tourists are encouraged to join with “free token bikes” and there are more than 300km of designated bike lanes all over the city. The city does not have the blessing of temperate weather all year round. As soon as everything starts to freeze it turns several city squares into huge skating fields. The frozen parts of the city also make it easier for residents to skate around. The city also has museums and art galleries for the kids and grown-ups. It has the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Art and the Royal Library housed in a rather imposing building called the Black Diamond.
2 Tokyo, Japan
Getting to anywhere from anywhere in Tokyo, travel time is an hour at average, compared to the average four hours in other megacities around the world. This is because the city has one of the best transport systems in the world, also a system with one of the lowest gas emissions. Despite what has been said about Tokyo there are a lot of open green spaces still available where the young and old can stretch and exercise. The clean and tidy surroundings are also a plus. Family ties are also strong among the Japanese, which means even as an adult sons or daughters living alone are still often in contact with parents and relatives. This assures a big family unit that is ready to take care of their own when the need arises. To some extent these ties extend to the local community where they live. Despite their serious nature, Japanese also have an excellent sense of humor as shown in their manga (comics), anime (cartoons) and even their TV gameshows. Japanese life expectancy remains the highest in the world at 85.9 years for women and 79.4 years for men.
1 Hong Kong
With land in Hong Kong at a premium, Hong Kongers don’t have much space to go around in the city, but the island itself is surrounded by mountains, the ocean and other islands that make good locations for recreational activities. Their proximity to the ocean also assures they get fresh seafood daily as well as produce fresh off ships. Used to living in close quarters, Hong Kongers often socialize with family and their neighbors, close bonds in the community are not uncommon even in this profit-driven metropolis. The city also has a high number of registered doctors, close to 13,000 at the end of 2011. Many of them practice Traditional Chinese Medicine which not just focuses on the ailment but takes on a holistic approach and tackles what practice is causing the illness and how it can be prevented or avoided. Aside from advocating traditional medicine, many of these doctors also push the benefits of Tai-Chi and one can see young and old practicing the graceful, fluid moves of this ancient exercise in public squares in the city. Life expectancy there is also one of the highest in the world at 82.5 years.