Why, Exactly, Is Colorado The Healthiest State?

Hiking in Colorado

Updated Mar 23, 2020 @ 4:49 pm

By Gretchen Lidicker

When you think of Colorado, what first comes to mind? If it’s an image of outdoorsy people climbing a mountain, a group of 20-somethings drinking craft beer, or a crowd singing along at the Red Rock Amphitheatre, you’re not far off. Colorado has a reputation as a haven for young, active, outdoorsy types and on a recent trip to the state, I was surprised just how much it delivered on my expectations.

According to a new report by the personal finance site WalletHub, Colorado is also one of the healthiest states — if not the healthiest state. But is this really true? And if so, why?

How does Colorado compare to other states in terms of health?

The WalletHub research, which compared all 50 states and the District of Columbia across 29 key metrics — such as diabetes rates, sugary-beverage consumption, and obesity-related healthcare costs — showed that Colorado is the second fittest state in America and has the lowest percentage of adults with type 2 diabetes. The research also showed that the state has the second lowest percentage of adults with high blood pressure and the second lowest percentage of physically inactive adults.

These types of statistics aren’t new; and Colorado’s healthy reputation isn’t any kind of secret, either. A 2018 survey made headlines last year when it showed that the obesity rates in Colorado are the lowest in the nation, falling around 23 percent. There are even books — like this one called State of Slim: Fix Your Metabolism and Drop 20 Pounds in 8 Weeks on the Colorado Diet — about the topic.

This is somewhat surprising. Colorado isn’t full of walking cities and it’s not warm all year. What explains the good health of its residents?

Why is Colorado always one of the healthiest states?

There are dozens of theories about why Colorado is at the top of the list of healthiest states. One explanation is the plethora of health and wellness brands that are founded in Denver and Boulder (Justin’s nut butter and Celestial Seasonings, the makers of the famous Sleepytime herbal tea are just two examples.)

These companies set the tone and bring health-conscious people to the area, as well as inspire the current residents to have wellness and real food front-of-mind. According to Charlie Baden, the Celestial Seasonings Blendmaster who personally tests each and every tea before it’s packaged, Colorado is what inspired the company in the first place. “Mo Siegel [the founder] was on a hike in the mountains when he got the idea of picking herbs and botanicals and making delicious, healthy teas from them.” There’s no arguing with the fact that Colorado has some of the best nature in America and there are about a million ways to get active.

As Baden explains: “On any given weekend, you will still find the Celestial Seasonings employees taking full advantage of the healthy Colorado lifestyle, whether they’re hiking in the Boulder Flatirons, biking the Peak to Peak ride, or just enjoying the legendary 300+ days a year of Boulder sunshine,” he continued. There’s certainly no shortage of new outdoor adventures to explore; Colorado has dozens of national parks and monuments and 41 state parks.

What role does Colorado’s winter sports play in the health of its residents?

Baden makes an important point when he mentions sunshine. Because yes, Colorado gets cold but it’s not the dreary, damp winter many of us experience, especially in the Northeast. According to the Huffington Post, Colorado only has 30 to 40 overcast days per year, leaving at least 300 days of partial sunshine (a statistic they got from the Colorado Climate Center).

Winter sports are another possible factor that pushes Colorado to the top of the list, since they allow residents to stay active all year long — not just in the summer. According to Coley Cook, who’s in charge of guest experience at the W Hotel in Aspen — which sits right at the base of Aspen Mountain, so there’s hiking, biking, snowboarding, and skiing directly outside, “Aspen is equally active in both the summer and winter and that is why we are known as an all-season resort.” She explains that guests travel to Aspen to get active, even when there are feet of snow on the ground. “In the winter you will see more snow activities, while in the summer you will find more hiking, mountain biking, climbing, and fishing,” she says.

After my recent trip to the state, I’ve developed my own theory. I think that what makes the difference for Colorado is the way they value an active culture over a fitness culture. Instead of sitting at a desk all day and then heading to Barry’s Bootcamp at 8 p.m., Coloradoans are biking, walking, hiking, and getting into nature. I got the distinct vibe that people living there would rather be able to hike 6 miles uphill than have a 6 pack; it’s a state that seems to put wellness over vanity. To me, that’s what sets Colorado apart from the rest.

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