Forget the flight to Snowbird states, Minnesota seniors: It turns out that the healthiest place to grow old is right here.
For the second year in a row, Minnesota came in first in the United Health Foundation ranking of healthiest states for senior citizens.
While its superiority largely reflected health care infrastructure — a high rate of seniors with prescription drug coverage, a sizable supply of home health care workers, and its rates of seniors receiving regular dental care and flu shots — Minnesota also stood out for the vitality of its older citizens.
Nearly 40 percent of Minnesota seniors volunteer — the second highest in the nation — and 68 percent are able-bodied, meaning they have no disabilities, according to the rankings, which were released last week.
“You need quality medical care of course, but there’s more to health than what happens at the doctor’s office,” said Dr. Edward Ehlinger, Minnesota’s health commissioner. “Seniors also enjoy health benefits from living in walkable neighborhoods, having access to nutritious food, and having opportunities to participate in their communities.”
Ehlinger, 67, embodies that philosophy with regular trips around the state that combine health policy talks with pitching horseshoes.
Minnesota doesn’t quite have it all, of course. Beyond the long, cold winters that drive many seniors to warmer climates, the state ranked 23rd for the share of its seniors living in poverty — 8.1 percent. The best state had only 5.4 percent of seniors in poverty.
That disparity showed up in other ways: While nearly 60 percent of seniors with a college education reported good or excellent health in Minnesota, only 25 percent of seniors without high school educations could say the same.
“It’s time to shift our focus from how long Americans are living, to how well we’re living,” said Dr. Reed Tuckson, senior medical adviser to United Health Foundation.
Minnesota also had the lowest rate of seniors — 6.6 percent — with cognitive problems and the fourth-lowest rate of seniors with multiple chronic conditions.
A trouble-on-the-horizon sign is the share of seniors who are obese; that increased from 23.7 percent in last year’s report to 26.3 percent this year.