Every competitive endeavor has its dominant figure: Jordan. Woods. Francis. What? You've never heard of Alan Francis? He pitches... horseshoes. Francis has won the horseshoe pitching world championship 16 times, prompting the New York Times to call him "perhaps the most dominant athlete in any sport in the country."
So now you know what we mean when we say Madison, Wisconsin, is almost "Franciscan" in its reign over our annual Best & Worst Cities rankings: The city has the most number one finishes in the history of our metropolitan melee.
All told, we crunched the numbers for 37 different criteria, from man killers (heart disease, cancer, and so forth) to man thrillers (ratio of single men to single women). When all was said and done, we checked our math and then checked it again, because close only counts if your last name is Francis.
The 10 Best
1. Madison, WI
2. Fargo, ND
3. Plano, TX
4. Burlington, VT
5. San Jose, CA
6. Lincoln, NE
7. Austin, TX
8. Aurora, CO
9. Virginia Beach, VA
10. Seattle, WA
The 10 Worst
91. Toledo, OH
92. New Orleans, LA
93. Charleston, WV
94. Baltimore, MD
95. St. Petersburg, FL
96. Memphis, TN
97. Detroit, MI
98. Birmingham, AL
99. Philadelphia, PA
100. St. Louis, MO
These five cities from our top 10 should be commended for the body benefits highlighted below.
1. Madison, WI Ward off a brain attack
Madison's secret? Midwestern consistency. When we delved into data from the usual assortment of alphabet agencies (CDC, FBI, EPA), we found that the capital of the Badger State kept throwing ringers in the key categories of health, fitness, and quality of life.
The men of Madison also have the second lowest rate of death from strokes. Credit well-timed medical intervention. "Madison is a community with a high proportion of doctors, and people take advantage," says Matthew Jensen, M.D., a professor of neurology at the University of Wisconsin at Madison. If your BP is inching up, see your M.D.: Research published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine showed that people who regularly followed up with their doctor to manage their blood pressure were less likely to die during the study period than those who stayed away.
To understand why Plano finished first in weight training, just imagine Dillon, the fictional Texas town of Friday Night Lights. "Plano is filled with overachievers," says Thomas Jensen, a certified personal trainer in the super-ripped city. "That competitive edge gives them an advantage in all aspects of life, including fitness." Put yourself in the same mindset by trying to outdo a friend when you lift. In a study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, people chest-pressed 11 percent more weight when competing against others.
4. Burlington, VT Use friends as medicine
Stroll down Burlington's main street and you'll see something strange: frequent displays of friendliness in place of urban indifference. Heartwarming, right? Possibly heart saving, too. A recent Swiss study reveals that people with supportive social networks are less likely to die of heart disease. Expand your presence in the community—join a basketball league, volunteer at a food bank, attend city council meetings. "Burlington government has lots of opportunities for citizen input," says Ben Littenberg, M.D., director of general internal medicine at the University of Vermont.
9. Virginia Beach, VA Raid the icebox
It's easy to be among the leaders in produce consumption when there's a cornucopia next door. "Practically everyone in Virginia Beach lives within a 15-minute drive of a farmers' market," says local dietitian Darden Chronister, M.S., R.D. If fresh produce is in short supply or out of season, go with frozen fruits and vegetables: They taste better and retain more nutrients than canned or even fresh stuff that's been sitting too long.
The Emerald City's endless opportunities for outdoor recreation—along with the resulting boost in mood and fitness—may be one reason for its enviably low cancer mortality rate, says Alan Kristal, Dr.P.H., a researcher at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle. A recent study in the journal Cancer Epidemiology reported that men who regularly participated in sports and outdoor activities had a reduced risk of several cancers. Visit localhikes.com to find nearby trails.