Looking for healthy inspiration? We've found it in every corner of the country. For SELF’s 11th ranking of America's best cities for women, we gathered 7,000 bits of data from 100 metro areas and, with an assist from Bert Sperling of BestPlaces.net, sussed out the star sites. Then we talked to real-life role models in those cities to find out how they and their neighbors get leaner, greener and less stressed-out. Follow their lead and you could be the healthiest woman in town.
1. Greenest: Des Moines, IA
Folks here enjoy clean air and water and 334 parks, covering nearly twice as many acres as the 100 cities in our survey averaged. Trails along prairies, riverbeds and Saylorville Lake "allow people to ride a bike to dinner downtown or quickly escape the urban environment," says Tina Mowry Hadden, 41, a business consultant who volunteers with a local conservation board to promote the trails. "The more people interact with the environment, the more they respect and protect it."
Make your town healthier: Hiking is so good for you that a national movement, Park Prescriptions, has spurred doctors to prescribe particular trails to patients. You don't need an Rx: Discover a great space and sign up to help preserve it at AmericanHiking.org.
2. Healthiest overall: Cambridge, Mass.
This year's champ is full of smarties—it has five colleges and universities—and judging by our numbers, all that savvy carries over to health habits. The Cambridge metro area scored strongly in nearly every area we measured, including wellness (women's rates of obesity, heart disease, cancerand depression are below average) and safety (violent crime is rare, as are car and pedestrian deaths). Residents stay active: Compared with the average of the other cities on our list, 80 percent more walk to work.
It's easier to afford the doctor in a place where 97 percent of women have insurance, thanks in no small part to a state that requires residents to be covered by law and chips in to help. Eighty-four percent of Cambridge women have had a recent checkup, and more women get exams such as mammograms and Paps than anywhere else. Suzanne Curry, 30, wants to make sure women know they're entitled to these services at no cost to themselves; her employer, consumer advocacy group Health Care for All, spreads the word via a hotline. "Health care is a human right," she says. "I want to make it a reality for everyone."
Make your town healthier: Going under-insured harms your health and puts a drain on your town's emergency services. HealthCare.gov reveals ways to get fully covered and helps you choose the highest-quality doctors and hospitals in your town.
3. Healthiest eaters: Santa Barbara, Calif.
What can you say about a town where even the local soup kitchen is 90 percent organic? Women eat 36 produce servings per week (four more than in the average city), and there are also 80 percent fewer fast food restaurants, four times more organic-food producers and nearly 40 percent more farmers' markets.
Santa Barbara also has nearly double the average number of food co-ops. Agricultural consultant Laurie Constable, 46, runs one on land right off Highway 101, preparing weekly baskets of green beans, broccoli, husk cherries and more for 80 member families and four schools. "Most people don't know what fresh lettuce or vine-ripened tomatoes really taste like," she says. "If everybody experienced fresh produce regularly, that alone could revolutionize our dinner plates."
Make your town healthier: Aim for a healthy 2½ cups of veggies and 2 cups of fruit a day—better yet, pick them from a community garden at your church, civic group or office. LetsMove.gov has tips on choosing a site and helping it bloom.
4. Safest: San Jose, Calif.
These big-city streets remain small-town safe, with one-third fewer violent crimes and nearly 60 percent fewer fatal car crashes than average. Wide sidewalks and bike lanes help, says Corinne Winter, 33, executive director of the Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition. "My goal is for people to be able to get around safely however they want to, whether they are 8 or 80," she says.
Make your town healthier: Put a pic of that cracked sidewalk or pothole on SeeClickFix.com. Officials in many cities have erased problems after seeing posts.
More from TODAY.com
Kelly Clarkson, Jimmy Fallon are a perfect pair to sing some history
Jimmy Fallon and Kelly Clarkson: Celebrities, singers, teachers. Yep, on Monday night we discovered there's a lot we can l...
- Join the TODAY Parenting Team! We're all in this together
- Katy Perry is now selling 'official' Left Shark onesies
- Natalie Morales: I wish I’d known this about Mom Guilt
- Find out what 'Breakfast Club' mementos Ringwald wishes she still had
- Kelly Clarkson, Jimmy Fallon are a perfect pair to sing some history
5. Happiest: Raleigh, N.C.
Carolina girls are cheerful: Compared with the average, they report high satisfaction with life and 14 percent fewer days when they feel bummed out, data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reveals. The Raleigh metro area also boasts less unemployment than is typical.
Women in this friendly area feel lots of social and emotional support. (Yep, the CDC actually tracks that.) Lauren Rosinski, 24, heads up a thriving MeetUp.com group of more than 100 moms holding weekly get-togethers, including holiday parties, book clubs and lunches. Wherever you live, "being a stay-at-home mom can be isolating at times," she says. "Having other women to talk to keeps me sane."
Make your town healthier: Weak social ties may harm your health as much as smoking nearly a pack a day does, researchers at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, report. "Joining a fitness club or women's group can bring you out of your shell," Rosinski says. "It's scary to put yourself out there, but soon you'll have girlfriends you can't imagine living without!"
6. Longest lives: Honolulu, Hawaii
Call it the sunshine cure. Island women simply get sick less often, having the lowest combined rates of cancer, depression, migraines, insomnia, asthma and allergies. These lucky ladies are 27 percent less likely to die of heart disease and can expect to live nearly three and a half years longer than the rest of us.
One surprising life extender? Eighty percent of Honolulu women went to the dentist last year—and research associates gum disease with potential life-shorteners such as heart disease, diabetes and stroke. Alison Buccat, D.M.D., 28, does her part by giving free care to neighbors in need at Aloha Medical Mission. "Growing up, I was ashamed of my smile," she says. "After my braces came off, it was like breaking out of a cocoon. It's not just about cosmetics—I want to help people understand the importance of dental health."
Make your town healthier. Need your chompers checked? Get low-cost cleanings and help local health providers learn at a dental college. A list of accredited programs is at ADA.org.
7. Most active: Denver, Colo.
Women here rocked all our measures of fitness: Seventy-nine percent exercised recently, 41 percent more commuters bike to work than average, and there are more gyms than in most cities. And it shows. Denver is among the five leanest places in the land.
One advocate for activity is Maren Stewart, 44, who as president of LiveWell Colorado works to remove barriers to activity, such as inadequate sidewalks and bike lanes. "Asking your boss to unlock a stairwell or swap in healthier snacks at the vending machine may seem like small changes, but they go a long way," she says.
Make your town healthier: Walk to work, the grocery store or your kids' school, and help others hoof it at WalkToSchool.org.
8. Healthiest love lives: Seattle, Wash.
The safest sex happens in Seattle. The town boasts plenty of ob/gyns to choose from, plus 29 percent fewer sexually transmitted infections and 43 percent fewer deaths from cervical cancer than average. Washington laws require prescription plans to cover birth control and pharmacies to dispense it—many states don't.
Alicia Dara, 38, singer and guitarist for the indie band The Volcano Diary, supports reproductive health by producing benefit concerts for Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest, where she also works the phones. "The artist's lifestyle comes with the challenge of finding quality health care," Dara says. "Planned Parenthood helps almost everyone in the Seattle music community—even the men."
Make your town healthier: Funding for family planning is under attack nationwide; sign up for email alerts at PlannedParenthood.org that help you speak up for contraceptives. And if you still haven't found birth control you can stick with, the site's My Method tool can get you started.
9. Best breasts: Bethesda, Md.
Women here know healthy breasts are beautiful. Four in five of those older than 40 have had a recent mammogram, and residents are 12 percent less likely to die of breast cancer than average. At fund-raising marches, "I'm always stunned to see the sea of pink, not to mention the businesses and community leaders who cheer us on," says Elizabeth Rathbone, 45, a school psychologist and a 10-year survivor who has raised more than $4,000 for the Susan G. Komen 3-Day for the Cure. Last year, she served meals while bonding with walkers: "I take any excuse to share my story and urge women to be proactive about health," she says.
Make your town healthier: Exercise may lower levels of breast-cancer-linked hormones, research shows. Rally for the Cure with a golf, tennis, yoga or Spinning event and you'll help the cause, too. Head to RallyForTheCure.com.
10. Best skin: Miami, Fla.
Surprise! South Beach ladies may bare a lot of skin, but the good news is they take care of it. With our survey's lowest risk of dying from skin cancer and 41 percent fewer sunburns than average, Miami is sitting pretty.
One theory: Shade has become positively trendy here. As PTA president at her sons' school, Dawn Martinez, an airline pilot with a history of precancerous growths, sought a grant from the American Academy of Dermatology to build a fabric structure over a sunny schoolyard. "As soon as new playgrounds are complete, a sunshade goes up," says Martinez, 46. "That's smart thinking."
Make your town healthier: Take a stand against tanning. The Go With Your Own Glow campaign at SkinCancer.org has sunless tanning tips and links you can send to friends to invite them to join you on the anticancer bandwagon.
Copyright © 2012 CondéNet. All rights reserved.