No matter where you live, achieving good health is always a process. In Canada, we enjoy the facilities, health and fitness experts, and often the surroundings we need to improve our health. A lot of health improvement begins with learning – both by ourselves and with others. We need to learn what diet and activity works best for us, and what areas we need help or accountability with.
One way to learn is to look at examples and see how we can adopt health benefits into our own lifestyles. An extensive 2015 study that reviewed and ranked the top 10 best and worst cities to live in Canada. Using that as just one of the many sources to construct this article, let’s have a deeper look.
10 Healthiest Cities in Canada:
This coastal city known for its good food and Lululemon yoga attire makes it as easy as possible to be healthy. Research found it to have the highest number of family doctors, the lowest reports of smoking and excessive drinking, and the least amount of overweight people. Vancouver’s natural landscape inspires locals to run along the Stanley Park seawall, climb the Grouse Grind, bike through False Creek, and enjoy nearby hiking trails in summer and snowboard local mountains in the winter. There are constant marathons and active clubs to participate in, and a large variety of sports leagues and facilities to try.
We know that besides consistent exercise, a healthy diet is the other major key to the level of health that puts Vancouver in top spot. Vancouverites can go to farmers’ markets or Steveston Village to buy a variety of fresh food and fish.
Anyone with food allergies or who requires a specialty diet can enjoy the diet they need in Vancouver, which is home to many specialty food stores to give locals options besides the big chain grocery stores. People who want to eat gluten-free, organic, vegan, vegetarian or kosher can do so and find the ingredients they need with relative ease.
This other West Coast city is a ferry ride away from Vancouver, and is located on Vancouver Island, one of the most peaceful getaways in Canada. Like Vancouver, Victoria also has the lowest number of overweight residents in the country, as well as the longest life expectancy. Locals to this island city enjoy some of the nation’s freshest and most nutritious food, as well as the cleanest, least polluted air. In fact, there doesn’t have to be much driving involved to create much pollution in the first place.
The moderate climate makes walking, biking and transiting very viable ways to commute on an everyday basis, so physical activity can be built in to daily life. The mild temperature also allows for year-round outdoor activity. When snow is a rarity, and cold is not a deterrent to go outside, it becomes easier to walk, job or bike all year long.
Victoria has great community care, with services for at-home care for the elderly, resources for caregivers of older adults with health conditions and Adult Day Services that provide senior citizens in need with health monitoring, activities, and bathing. The healthcare system makes health education and skills available to expecting parents, and it is simple for parents to obtain information about nutrition, immunization, health, and safe child care for children and youth at different ages.
This booming urban center is also home to some of the most physically fit and active Canadians. Calgary is one of the few cities with job opportunities and affordable housing that are growing and drawing in more residents. It is a go-to for young adults looking for jobs, and for professionals looking to further their careers. This comparatively healthy employment landscape has resulted in a city full of young professionals who are motivated and who actively pursue a high quality of life and health. The low numbers of overweight people also correlates with minimal reports of high blood pressure and diabetes. Calgary ties with Vancouver for having the strictest anti-smoking laws in the country, so the healthy lungs are in large part due to the smoking restrictions.
Calgary is one of the cleanest cities in the world, and is a beautiful place to enjoy outdoors all year long. There are multiple parks throughout the city, including Fish Creek Provincial Park, which is one of the country’s largest parks, and a local favorite for running and rollerblading. There are trails for walking and hiking along the Bow River and Elbow River, and people can enjoy other lakes and areas of Alberta, such as Banff National Park, which is close to Calgary.
Another thriving city close to Calgary is Edmonton. This Western Canadian city is another place with high life expectancy, healthy individuals, strong community care, anti-smoking, and top health equipment such as mammogram machines. Edmonton is also famous for the largest mall in North America, West Edmonton Mall. The mall is a great active resource for locals during the snowy winter months that make it harder for outdoor runs and hikes. West Edmonton Mall contains a skateboard park, a rock-climbing wall, an ice skating rink, and bungee jumping area to give locals lots of fun options for staying active. The mall’s 48 blocks of retail and community space is also a good indoor option for walking and staying moving.
Of course, those who are native to Edmonton are no strangers to the cold winters, and it is something that is also embraced by many. Athletes and families alike enjoy the outdoor activities in the city, primarily outdoor ice rinks. The winter temperatures are cold enough for great ice rinks, from personal backyard rinks to community rinks like the Victoria Park oval. Ice skating is a fun way for exercise of all skill levels, from parents and their young children to competitive speed skaters who live in the city.
The country’s capital city is one of the healthiest, and the fact that it is not on the coast does not stop its residents from being some of the top consumers of fruits and vegetables. The fourth-largest city in Canada scores high for having the best blood pressure levels, least amounts of heavy drinking, strictly-followed anti-smoking policies, and locals who are in the practice of spending their leisure time in active ways.
Ottawa is a great example of a city that doesn’t have good weather and yet people still choose to be outdoors and find a way to make it work. Truly, health is a choice even when conditions are not in our favor. Ottawa has heavy snow and harsh winters, but locals continue to make use of its great bike trails and continue to cycle during months of bad weather.
The geography of the city also makes walking both a healthy and enjoyable way to commute. It is beautiful to walk through the neighborhoods that run close to the water in order to get to school, work, shops, cafes, restaurants, and community centers. City layout that makes the best areas walkable means walking can be an enjoyable practical activity for residents every day. In the summer, locals often spend time being active on the Rideau River and the Canal.
Quebec City is the second largest city in the province, after Montreal. It’s famous for the Winter Carnival, Saint-Jean-Baptiste Day, the Ice Hotel and the Mont-Sainte-Anne ski resort. It is one of the oldest North American cities, and is the only city north of Mexico that still has fortified walls (in Old Quebec). Like any city that has hosted the Olympics (including Vancouver and Calgary), Quebec’s hosting in 2008 is a sign of an already active city, and the Olympics left updated and additional sports arenas for locals. Quebec is home to the Capitales de Quebec, a professional baseball team, a junior hockey team, football teams, a soccer team, and has had professional hockey and basketball teams.
Quebec City is unique to the country for being distinctly French Canadian. Most people are French speakers and communicate in French over English. The physical features of the city are also different, and Quebec City has a European feel because of the older buildings and winding roads that are lined with cafes and shops, which looks much richer with history than the newer buildings and grid layouts of many newer Canadian cities. This charming city aesthetic makes it a wonderful place to be an pedestrian in, which is always the best easy exercise.
The metropolis of Halifax is known for Dalhousie University, agriculture, fishing and natural gas industries. This city scored at the top for air quality and also its effective smoking bans. This is a hugely positive health characteristic for a community, since it’s less appealing to smoke when nobody around you is smoking. It takes away the social aspect of the addictive habit. Additionally, we know that smoking can lead to serious health conditions such as cancer, strokes and heart attack; not to mention the health conditions caused by secondhand smoke.
Of course, health isn’t just avoiding bad habits but actively pursuing good ones, which Halifax locals do. Many people engage in sports and activity at the Halifax Common, which is the oldest park in Canada. The city’s beautiful lakes are popular spots for people to walk, paddle and fly kites. The Halifax Public Gardens and other large parks offer natural space for residents to walk and be active.
While Halifax is not one of the first Canadian cities to come to mind when events, industry and culture put Vancouver and Toronto at the forefront, it does stand out for the high quality of life that residents enjoy. In fact, MoneySense Magazine gave Halifax the number 4 spot on its list of best places to live in Canada because of the quality of life it offers, as well as its potential and likelihood to keep growing and developing.
Saskatoon is a prairie city along the Saskatchewan River in the middle of Canada. Two big reasons it makes the top 10 list is due to its great air quality and also because of its low number of people suffering from high blood pressure. High blood pressure puts you at risk for stroke and heart disease, so it is a great sign of health when this is not a problem. A lack of high blood pressure also implies other health benefits. Since smoking, heavy drinking and obesity are precursors to high blood pressure, these are likely not health issues for the majority of residents if high blood pressure is not common.
Although Saskatoon has heavy snowfall, cold winters and occasional thunderstorms in summer, there are still many opportunities for locals to be active. The South Saskatchewan River is a summertime go-to, where people enjoy walking, running and biking in the parks along the water. The cold winters mean there is plenty of powdery snow for cross-country skiing and perfect temperatures for ice skating. No matter the harshness of your city’s conditions, we can always take a note from Saskatoon’s residents, and prepare to enjoy activity all year round despite the weather.
Summerside may be the only city on the top 10 list that is even unfamiliar to Canadians. Yet it is the second largest city in Prince Edward Island, and is home to major industries and companies, including Cavendish Farms, which is the province’s largest private sector employer. It is also notable for Summerside Raceway, which is the oldest running race tracks in the country.
If we haven’t known of Summerside before, it’s definitely worth exploring as an example of healthy living, since it is the only city in the top 10 list that achieved a full score of “10” for the category of “Self-rated Good Health.” We know this isn’t just in the residents’ minds, because the city also scored very high for lowest rates of diabetes and lowest reports of high blood pressure. Summerside is an example of a city that makes major changes for the health and life improvement of its locals. The city has undergone major construction and redevelopment to improve the seawall and to create a new boardwalk along the water. These changes make walking, running and an active pedestrian lifestyle much more feasible and enjoyable.
This east coast city wraps up the top 10 list, and makes this spot for getting top scores in life expectancy and for its low levels of heavy drinking, which is impressive considering this is the most populated city in Canada. Even with the fast-paced work and social culture, this urban center is health conscious about not letting alcohol be a means of coping with work stress or the primary source of social bonding. Instead, Torontonians concentrate on getting high intakes of fruits and vegetables and are knowledgeable and invested in a healthy diet and lifestyle.
Toronto has many parks and also public rinks for ice skating in the winter. The Toronto Islands are easy to get to from downtown ferries, and offer additional park areas for locals. Other fun options to stay active include going skiing or snowboarding at Centennial Park and Earl Bales Park.
This global city gives people many reasons to be active in every area of life, with a great variety of arts and culture events, professional sports games to watch, festivals to attend, and more. Toronto is hosting the 2015 Pan American Games, which will be the largest competitive sporting event to ever take place in Canada. This event will surely be an inspiration to the city, nation and world in the excellence of sports and physical ability.
Key Health Characteristics
Culture of Health and Wellness
It can make a big difference to live in a city with a strong culture of health and wellness. When health is a normative mindset and lifestyle for locals, businesses, schools and local government alike, it makes healthy living much easier and more accessible. Cities (like Vancouver, for example) that prioritize health are more likely to have running clubs and different activity options besides gyms (ice rinks, indoor soccer, yoga studios, golf courses, dance studios).
A variety of activity allows people to choose to be active in ways that they enjoy, which is easier to maintain consistently. Health-conscious cities are also more likely to have farmers’ markets, community gardens, and organic or specialty food stores. Cities such as Vancouver encourage and cater to health rather than to smoking or sedentary lifestyle. Simply being in a health-positive culture makes it easier to incorporate into your own experience.
Related to the point above, a healthy lifestyle is easier when living in a health-focused culture because we have a community of people to be healthy with. Cities that are excited about health inevitably draw experts, trainers, entrepreneurs, chefs and other professionals who then create better health opportunities for locals.
This makes a big difference because accountability and company can help us stay committed to our health goals. Having friends and family to go for daily walks with is the simplest way to start, because this can be done anywhere at any time of day, at no cost. Having someone to meet at the swimming pool or to carpool with to kickboxing class makes our fitness routine more enjoyable because it is also time we are spending with people. Being around like-minded people means we can share healthy recipes and meals together, and have others to work towards better health with.
Many of Canada’s top cities operate by this characteristic more and more: buy local. Vancouver, Calgary, and Ottawa, for example, are all cities that are connected to farmland and supporting locally grown food has become part of most people’s grocery habits. As people are becoming better educated on nutrition and food processes, buying local food gives us a way to know where our food comes from and how it’s grown. It is also healthier to consume food that hasn’t been frozen and shipped, if possible.
Realistically, the majority of us cannot afford to buy everything organic, fresh, and local. However, we can all choose an area of our diet that is important to us to choose the healthiest option. If local fruit and vegetables are available at markets, that is the number one recommended part of your diet to prioritize. The healthiest cities all report that people tend to consume five or more servings of fruits and vegetables every day. Consider starting a garden if you live in a city that does not give you easy access to locally grown food.
The “if you build it, they will come” idea definitely affects the health of a city. As much as people are individually responsible for their own health, so are the community and government leaders for our regions. Get involved in your community, and take initiative to let your government leaders know if you and other citizens want changes in health funding and city planning.
The top 3 healthiest Canadian cities (Vancouver, Victoria and Calgary) are all in Western Canada and have the fortune of being on the coast and/or have nearby mountains for hiking and other winter sports. Even if nature doesn’t put an ocean and mountains on the edges of your city, urban planning can include parks, tennis/basketball courts, jogging tracks, bike routes and other active elements into core areas of the city. Health can be part of our city planning.
Stress plays a major factor in our physical and emotional health, and 15 out of 20 Canadian cities surveyed reported decreased stress in their everyday experience. Stress increases high blood pressure, insomnia, chronic fatigue, being over-weight, and poor body functioning in general. Of course, life (and city life, specifically) will never be without stress, and we are not suggesting you aim to not have any stress. People who report low stress simply address and manage stress in a healthy way.
Health is our choice. You can choose to exercise instead of drinking alcohol to deal with stress. You can choose to avoid high-sugar or high-carb diets that cause physical and emotional crashes to help keep your mood stable. You can choose to take advantage of any healthcare benefits that cover counseling visits, or simply be proactive about having regular conversations with good friends and family. Strong relationships can help lower stress. Kill two birds with one stone by spending time with loved ones as you exercise and enjoy healthy meals together.
We hope going through these key characteristics that are seen in the healthiest Canadian cities were a helpful reminder and also gave you great ideas for how you can live in your own city in a healthier way. Find a friend or family member who you can get healthy with, and look together for healthy options in your city that you may not have been aware of. Start with where you are, and we know you can make these health characteristics your own!