Make a Healthy Move: City Health Rankings

Over 60 and thinking of finding a new hometown? Learn how evaluating a city’s health ranking data can help you make the best move.

By Carol Marak

If you’re like me, among the 22 percent of sin­gle women over 60 years of age who live alone without the support of a spouse, a partner, or children, it’s important to live in an affordable city. Most of us have limited income, but we want access to high-quality healthcare, sensibly priced housing, and a certainty that the cost of living will allow us to maintain the lifestyle we desire.

Making a decision about where to live based on price alone, how­ever, can lead you down the wrong road. That’s why my sister—also over 60 and single—has been es­pecially cautious when she recent­ly started considering a move. She wants to be sure that this big step will be in her best interest—for her health and her financial stability.

My sister is not alone in her con­cern over the challenges of this de­cision. As we age, the question of whether packing up and moving on is the right thing to do is complicat­ed: we consider concerns of afford­ability (related to home, healthcare, entertainment, and staying fit); we want to make sure we have access to excellent healthcare and aging ser­vices; we wonder about how easy it will be to meet new friends our age (according to the Census Bureau, at least 25 percent of the population in most US cities lives alone, and, of that number, women make up close to 70 percent of them).

So, if there are so many potential issues, what drives seniors to con­sider a move? In my sister’s case, she has begun to feel that she would like to live in a community that in­cludes more people around her age. She currently lives in Austin, Texas, where the median age is 32; she is 65. That said, she does like the healthy lifestyle that Austin offers, so she’d like to find a similarly healthy home­town if she makes a move. She has considered Santa Fe but thinks it’s too expensive—and it would take her too far away from relatives. Giv­en all of these factors, my sister has chosen to keep her focus in Texas, and she and I decided to evaluate Dallas as a potential match.

The next step: do the research.

Research for a Good Result

Researching a new hometown can be challenging. It requires exten­sive time and tools to dig into state, county, and city facts if you want a clear image of a town. The good news is that has combined statistics from govern­ment agencies such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Congressional Budget Office, Cen­ters for Medicare & Medicaid Ser­vices, and Census Bureau to make the task easier. It also collected data from America’s Health Rankings and the State Scorecard on Long- Term Services and Supports for Older Adults to make robust city guides. If you know someone look­ing to make a move, it’s a great re­source. I’ll show you how my sister and I used it to gather information for her move.

We started with health rankings, which are important. Health grades related to a fu­ture hometown offer insights into the area’s residents; if a city ranks low in physical activity, you can bet that its residents have a higher potential to be overweight. But more importantly, it illustrates the personal priorities of the local population. If you’re active, you’ll be looking for a place where chanc­es are good that you will connect with friends who will want to join you as you get out and get fit. By evaluating indicators like behav­iors, community, policy, clinical care, and others, an individual can grasp how well a location will suit her needs.

In general, Texas ranks in the lower bracket where health-related factors are concerned. On a scale of 1 to 50, with one being highest and 50 lowest, overall quality of life ranked 41. In other concerns, behaviors like smoking and chron­ic drinking, the state ranked 40. That’s a bit high for my sister’s preference, but remember that she wants to live near family, so com­promise is necessary.

As we dug further into the Dallas data, we used the following ques­tions to guide our search:

  • Are there many people around the age of 65?
  • Does it offer affordable housing and clinical care?
  • Is it a healthy environment?
  • Is it financially stable?

Here is a quick look at what we found out about Dallas that will factor into my sister’s decision of whether or not to move:

  • Dallas is home to 117,236 seniors age 65 and over, and Austin has 52,695. Chances are, she’ll have more opportunities to connect with people her age in Big D.
  • The median household income for people her age is $34,405; my sister’s is well above that amount, so it’s our guess that she’ll have more entertainment options because she can afford to go out.
  • In Austin, according to the Austin Board of Realtors, home prices have hit an all-time high— the average is $355,000—while the Dallas Board of Realtors reports it’s median home price at $282,700. The data thrills my sister: because the price of a Dal­las home is less, she’ll spend very little in monthly home ownership compared with what she spends now in Austin.
  • For most people, growing older means considering how much of their monthly budget will be— now or at a later date—devoted to home healthcare, and the cost of it carries weight when deciding where to live. In the Dallas area, the average price of home care is $20 per hour—not bad for a large metro area. In Austin it’s $21.50.
  • A healthy lifestyle is important at all ages, but for my sister it’s crucial. She is what I call a “health nut.” Dallas rates are lower than Austin’s in overall quality of life and health factors, but when comparing behaviors like smoking, obesity, healthy foods, physical in­activity, chronic alcohol drinking, and access to fitness opportunities, Dallas is a close rival.
  • The same goes for clinical care, which is as equally significant to my sister. Things like mammogra­phy screening, preventable hospital stays, and the number of dentists and physicians are close when comparing Dallas and Austin.
  • What she didn’t consider was the education level, but the data in the city guides showed her that Austin seniors have more college degrees: 42 percent in Austin versus 34 per­cent in Dallas.

My sister plans a visit to Dallas to check it out. The housing is more affordable, plus the city is home to more people her age. Those two is­sues were the deciding factors. The other indicators ran too close to matter.

Carol Marak is an elder orphan advocate, columnist, and editor at She writes and speaks about the crucial top­ics people 55 and over encounter when aging alone. She’s a former family caregiver and now faces the challenges of growing older with­out the close support of a family member. Carol earned a Certificate in the Fundamentals of Gerontol­ogy from the University of Califor­nia at Davis.

The city guides that we used cover more than 8,000 cit­ies in the United States. The data helps individuals like my sister find a new location that is not based solely on price. It’s my hope that others like her will find a stable and suitable place to live. Many women fear growing older in a place that’s pricey with little support. If you’re aging alone and feel anxiety, please join us on Facebook. We’re quite the engaging sort.