LIHUE — Hawaii is a popular vacation destination, but it’s also one of the healthiest places for seniors to retire.
The Aloha State was ranked the second best state for retirement in 24/7 Wall St.’s “Best States for a Healthy Retirement” report. Colorado topped the rankings, while low-income states like Arkansas and Mississippi ranked among the worst, according to the November 2017 report.
To determine the healthiest states, 17 health indicators were used for Americans 65 and older from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s “Healthy Aging Program” to rank Hawaii near the top.
“It is a slower pace where you can take your time and especially take care of your health,” said 68-year-old Cleo Kanai, who was raised on Kauai but moved to Honolulu for job opportunities. “Fast pace is very stressful.”
Kanai came back to operate a business and restaurant between 2001 and 2012, before retiring back to Kauai permanently in 2015 with her husband, Howard.
“(There’s) less stress in the community that we live in,” she said. “Not crowded with high rises. Lots of activities and adventures to do on Kauai. Lots of family and friends, and friends become family. Better medical facilities and doctors. Parks and recreation area is kept clean. We buy all our vegetables from the farmers markets.”
According to the report, seniors in Hawaii were sick less often than those in any other state, with less than four unhealthy days per month, compared to the five-day average reported by seniors across the country.
“When I came here I was taking two medicines, now I take none,” said 77-year-old retiree Joan Baganz, who moved here from Boca Raton, Florida, in 2016, after her husband died. “I work out five days a week. I belong to a gym, I have a trainer, and I take Isagenix. I’m much healthier here. It doesn’t hurt that my daughter is a doctor that lives close by now.”
Diagnosed as diabetic, Baganz was able to discontinue all her medications and now focuses on eating fresh fruits and vegetables which are easily available year-round on the island.
“My daughter introduced me to the idea that food is your first medicine,” she said, “and now I take no meds here on Hawaii.”
The percentage of Hawaii residents over 65 with a disability was approximately 26 percent, according to the recent data. Hawaii seniors reported the lowest obesity rate in the country of 17.9 percent, compared to 27.5 percent nationwide. Also, just 7.6 percent of Hawaii’s 65 and older residents have ever been diagnosed with depression; the nationwide rate is 15 percent.
While many factors can affect longevity, there is a strong correlation between a state’s ranking as a place for healthy retirement and the state’s average life expectancy, which is 81.2 years, according to the report.
“The weather and laid-back lifestyle contribute to a healthy environment, both mentally and physically,” said 70-year-old retiree Jack Hodges. “Our hobbies are photography, exercise and eating healthy meals, and you can find all of this here on Kauai. We get great exercise every day by playing pickleball and going on walks.”
Hodges and his 67-year-old wife Stephanie Sunn retired to Kalaheo three years ago. Hodges’ mother’s family is from Oahu; he grew up on Oahu and attended college in Southern California, where he and Sunn both had teaching careers. But they always knew they would relocate to Kauai.
“Kauai is special because the people are special,” Hodges said. “Everyone takes time to visit with you. Kauaians share their prosperity. They are courteous and respectful. We love the culture and the tremendous respect island people have for their elders.”
“A very close second would be the weather,” he added. “80 degrees during the day and 70 at night means more outside activities and more chances to appreciate the beauty of the island.”
States with high senior incomes like Hawaii and Colorado generally have healthier senior populations, according to the data, while low-income states like Arkansas and Mississippi rank among the worst.
“With an abundance of outdoor activities, year-round warm weather and affordable real estate, it’s no surprise we are one of the best states for retirement,” said Chadd White, vice president of sales for Oceanfront Sotheby’s International Realty. “The islands have a calming effect on visitors and residents alike. Add that to our slower-paced lifestyle and you have the perfect state to retire in.”
New Hampshire and Maine ranked third and fourth respectively among the “Top 10 States for a Healthy Retirement.”